Published in Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science, Volume 121, Issue 5, September 1, 1996, pages 894-900.
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Lauren Garner was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
During production of plug transplants, the high plant density results in rapid stem elongation as plants compete for light. The resulting tall, weak-stemmed plants are difficult to transplant and are easily damaged. One technique that can prevent excessive elongation is mechanical stimulation by brushing. Wide adoption of brushing is limited by a lack of information on how plants respond to variations in applying the technique. Our investigation examined how tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum cv. Oh8245) seedling growth responded to varying doses of mechanical stimulation, varying intervals between brush strokes during stimulation, time of day that stimulation was applied, and growth stage at which application started. Seedlings were grown in 288-cell flats at 2100 plants/m2. Daily doses from 0 to 40 brush strokes were applied from canopy closure until the nontreated plants reached a canopy height of 15 cm. The final height was reduced by ≈20% for all brushed treatments, with little further effect with >10 strokes/d. Intervals between strokes as long as 10 minutes resulted in the same reduction in the rate of stem elongation as the same daily dose applied in one continuous treatment. Treatments were similarly effective whether applied in the morning or late afternoon. Treatments begun at a canopy height of 6 (canopy closure), 8, or 10 cm gave similar reductions in the rate of stem elongation. Plants grew 6 mm·d–1 when they were not treated and 3 mm·d–1 when treated. Therefore, the final height was directly related to the number of treatment days. Stimulation appears to be sensed and integrated over at least half an hour and the reduction in the rate of stem elongation expressed over the subsequent daily cycle of growth. All results indicate that there is substantial flexibility in applying brushing for controlling elongation in tomato transplants.