Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Turf, Landscape, Greenhouse, and Nursery - Be Cautious When Evaluating New Products With Plant Growth or Plant Health Promoting Claims

Each year new products are offered in the trade that promise miraculous responses when used on plants. Professionals should be cautious when being offered products that seem to be "too good to be true". I came across a good article on this subject from Rutgers University.

There are many products out there and new ones emerging all the time that make claims to “bolster plant health”, “control diseases” (like Phytophthora and Pythium), and cure many woes with plants. With the difficulty in controlling devastating diseases like Phytophthora and the high prices of alternative control methods it is tempting to try new products.

Unfortunately, many of the new products available have not been tested by university researchers and do not have the non-biased, replicated, scientific studies to back up the claims being presented to growers to entice purchasing these products. The reason for lack of university research is often due to the fact that companies producing these products do not have the funds to support the type of research needed to verify the product’s success. Generally, they are small, up-starting companies who may or may not have a good product. They may have done their own studies or have done studies with growers who have had success, but often what works on one location, may not universally work for others.

There are so many factors, like soil type, water quality, environment, pH, crop variety, etc., that influence the success or failure of a product. Additionally, some of the products sold have inconsistent attributes, like fertility level, pH, contaminants, etc. They may have interactions with other products. Take for instance a transplant mix enhancer/amendment that is made from a compost product. Composts are often inconsistent. Composts are mostly made from products like plant materials, wood by-products, manures, and other organic materials. When you mix an enhancing product with a transplant mix there is more chance of seeing an affect than if used in the field. Why? In the greenhouse using trays with small cells or even in pots, there is less growing media to interact with the plant. So the affect will be seen more dramatically then when plants are in the field with a greater amount of soil for growth and development. Some enhancing or amendment products have shown little or no affect on plant growth. Others have induced nutrient deficiencies, especially in young transplants.

Your best bet is to proceed with caution when trying a new product that has claims to improve plant health or control diseases. Try it if you think it may help. However, try it on a small scale. Don’t make a drastic change based on a good sales pitch. Always ask for a nutrient analysis (if it has fertility claims) and an ingredients list and label for the product. You can consult your county horticultural agent, but chances are many of these products do not have scientific data to back up claims. When looking into these products ask the manufacturer or sales person to show you university data from research by cooperative extension. If they have none, see if they are willing to fund a project for university studies to prove the product is reliable and meets the claims being presented.

This article is not meant to promote or discourage the use of new plant or soil enhancing products, it is just mean to bring awareness to professionals about how to proceed in investigating new products.

Adapted from "Plant or Soil Enhancing Products: Proceed with Caution" by Michelle Casella, Agricultural Agent, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Gloucester County in the April 19, 2007 edition of the Plant and Pest Advisory, Landscape, Nursery, and Turf Edition.

No comments: