The variety of media available to the container industry is astounding. Many operations have water sources with unique quality and their own special blended fertilizers and soilless substrates (i.e. media) to ensure they have what works best for them. These selected fertilizers and substrates do not behave identically for each operation or each location. Water quality (e.g., alkalinity), electrical conductivity (EC), and pH, for example, are chemical characteristics that can vary greatly depending on water source, fertilizer, and media constituents. They are also important to monitor, since they directly impact nutrient availability. While (relatively) simple and inexpensive to measure using portable meters, water quality and substrate pH and EC results can be confounding.

With the help of the Horticultural Research Institute’s competitive grants program, a collaboration of researchers developed a mobile web site to record, monitor, and share water quality and pour-through values on your phone or tablet. While not technically an app, the site can be used on your desktop computer as well as your mobile phone via an easily created shortcut that make the site act as an app without the needed updates. And best of all, it’s free!

Researchers Dr. Jim Owen, Virginia Tech; Dr. Brian Whipker, NC State University; Dr. Sarah White, Clemson University; and Dr. Brian Krug, Pioneer Hybrids, acknowledged the scarcity of mobile-friendly tools available for the green industry in general, and set about to make GroZone Tracker, a useful tool for the container producer. This program helps managers quickly pinpoint problem areas related to pH, EC, and water quality on a map and monitor them over time.

Instant feedback about water quality and pour-through values is a key component. For example, values of pH and EC for a specified crop are flagged red if immediate attention is needed, yellow if they need to be watched, or green if they are okay and within a normal range. Having this information translates into faster decision-making.

Dr. Owen was struck by the amount of extension calls he received asking how to interpret pour-through data. He said, “Growers realize the benefits of regular, in-house pour-throughs and water quality monitoring, but often have difficulty understanding the results. GroZone Tracker helps growers make on-the-spot decisions and be more self-reliant.”

Furthermore, the entered data are archived. In the event that an extension agent or consultant is needed to diagnose a problem, records are available to help them understand the historical growing conditions. Owen commented, “Often we go on a site visit, and no one has the data to help diagnose the problem. Having this information will help me and my colleagues better serve our stakeholders.”

The data stored in the program are secure and inaccessible by third parties.

The program is intuitive and tutorials/how-to guides are available regarding the program itself, water quality sampling and pour-throughs. Once water quality parameters, such as pH and EC values are determined, they are entered in the program for a specific site, which can be set using your phone’s GPS. Sampling date and time are also recorded. Information on water samples, such as pH, EC, and alkalinity, can also be entered and evaluated for a specified crop.

GroZone Tracker, is available now at:

The how-to guide is available at:

Horticultural Research Institute exists to understand the business of horticulture and, by doing so, fund, advocate for, and direct research specific to horticulture and horticultural businesses. Supporting research projects that develop tools like the GroZone Tracker is another example of how HRI backs innovation.