Poinsettias, the classic ruby red Christmas plant, are a species that often rely on the use of plant growth retardant (PRG) to ensure they achieve the optimum number and size of bracts at the height of their selling season.

With protective environmental legislation threatening to reduce the use of such PGR chemical treatments, UK-based NIAB East Malling Research (EMR) have been exploring the power of specialised irrigation regimes to achieve similar results, but with environmentally friendly outcomes.

The ongoing ADHB funded research project (currently in year 2) is taking place at Neame Lea Nursery in Spalding, Lincolnshire, and uses deficit irrigation systems based on Delta-T Devices’s SM150T soil moisture sensors, GP2 Data Logger, and DeltaLINK-Cloud remote access data service, to precisely control growing conditions.

The EMR team, led by head of crop science and production systems Dr Mark Else have found that by stressing the plant through carefully designed patterns of deficit irrigation, they can closely replicate the effect of PRG application. This new approach allows the grower similar control of the poinsettia’s growth and helps to ensure that the plants are the optimal size, shape and healthiness for the brief and critical Christmas market.

Throughout their growth cycle the poinsettia plants are moved to various sections of the nursery (on flood/drain pallets) depending on their stage and state of growth – allowing the growers to further organise, control and fine tune the process of achieving the best possible plant at precisely the right time.

The Delta-T Devices equipment used in the research enables high precision measurement of soil moisture to inform the automated irrigation decisions. In addition, their DeltaLINK-Cloud online data service allows researchers and growers to view all relevant project data remotely (at any time) on smart phone, laptop or tablet, via colourful and accessible dashboard graphics.

More than two hundred and fifty thousand poinsettia plants at Neame Lea Nursery have been involved in the project to date, and the results have been highly encouraging.

Dr Martin Goodchild of Delta-T Devices said, “We are delighted to work with NIAB EMR on this groundbreaking trial for poinsettias – and are proud that our products are enabling the evaluation of novel and more environmentally friendly growing methods. This trial, which employs “Internet of Things” technology, delivers precise, real-time soil moisture data to mobile devices. This feature is likely to become an invaluable irrigation management tool for growers in the future, potentially decreasing industry reliance on chemical growth retardants.”

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