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Pioneering a New Era of Nutritional Monitoring with Fert, Dirt, and Squirt

Fert Dirt Squirt Homepage

Figure 1. The collaborative group of greenhouse and floriculture specialists and educators, e-GRO, launched a Nutritional Monitoring of Floriculture Crops website. Pictured is the website homepage. Photo by Dr. W. Garrett Owen.

Nutritional disorders are among the many challenges greenhouse growers encounter during crop production. These disorders often develop when substrate pH or soluble salts [referred to as electrical conductivity (EC)] drifts above or below optimal ranges for plant uptake. To assist greenhouse growers in addressing nutritional disorders, the collaborative group of greenhouse and floriculture specialists and educators, e-GRO, has launched a Nutritional Monitoring of Floriculture Crops website, Fert, Dirt & Squirt (Fig. 1), led by Dr. W. Garrett Owen and Dr. Brian Whipker. The Nutritional Monitoring of Floriculture Crops, sponsored by AFE’s Educational Grant Program, serves as an information and education center for growers, students, and horticultural professionals. Additionally, e-GRO has also been supported by AFE-funding.

Firt Dirt Squirt Platforms

Figure 2. The Nutritional Monitoring of Floriculture Crops website, is accessible by computer, tablet, and mobile device. Pictured is the website homepage viewed on each device. Photo by Dr. W. Garrett Owen.

Since 2018, the website has received over 24,500 pageviews, with users representing 107 countries. Nationally, greenhouse growers from all 50 U.S. States and the District of Columbia represent 65% of the total users. So why is the website attracting so much attention? First, the website is accessible by computer, tablet, or mobile device (Fig. 2).

Regardless of how the website is accessed, growers will find 47 crop-specific nutritional factsheets (Fig. 3) ranging from annual bedding plants, herbaceous perennials, potted crops, vegetable transplants, herbs, and hemp.

Figure 3. Example of a nutritional factsheet that provides optimal crop-specific fertility requirements, pH, and EC values reported by the 1:2 Dilution, Saturated Media Extraction (SME), and PourThru methods, fertility management, corrective procedures for high and low pH and EC, and nutritional disorder photos. Pictured here is the Sempervivum nutritional factsheet. Photo by Dr. W. Garrett Owen.

These crop-specific nutritional factsheets provide the optimal crop-specific fertility requirements, pH, and EC values reported by the 1:2 Dilution, Saturated Media Extraction (SME), and PourThru methods, fertility management, corrective procedures for high and low pH and EC, nutritional disorder photos, and when available leaf tissue nutrient values. Not only are these factsheets educational resources for growers, but they also serve as educational opportunities for our past and current undergraduate and graduate students. For example, under the direction of Dr. Owen, the UK greenhouse management class will learn the importance of nutritional monitoring, induce disorders, learn sampling procedures, and author the 2022 factsheets.

In addition to factsheets, we have created instructional ‘How To’ videos and guides for various sampling methods, procedures, and container sizes. For instance, instructional ‘How To’ videos and guides for sampling pH and EC of annual bedding and perennial plants, plugs, liners, flats, pots, and hanging baskets are available. Finally, a database consisting of 580 floriculture and edible crops allows growers to search for crops to view the optimal crop-specific fertility requirements, pH, and EC values reported by the 1:2 Dilution, SME, and PourThru methods.

As a continuous effort to provide growers with nutritional information, please check the website for updates and new postings of crop-specific nutritional factsheets, videos, and guides.

We would like to thank AFE for their continuous support of e-GRO’s Fert, Dirt, & Squirt. Dr. Owen would also like to thank Dümmen-Orange for providing plant material for students to develop factsheets.

Garrett Owen, University of Kentucky, Department of Horticulture
Brian E. Whipker, NC State University, Department of Horticultural Science