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NMSU students incorporate research into Earth Week plant sale project

In observance of Earth Day and New Mexico State University Earth Week, the NMSU Horticulture Forum club will be holding plant sales for the general public and the university community.

Group of NMSU students posing with plants inside greenhouse
Members of the NMSU Horticulture Forum club met recently in their greenhouse to prepare for Earth Week plant sales. To raise funds for their educational and community service activities, the group will offer more than 1,000 plants to the Las Cruces and campus communities. Pictured, from left, are Jacquelyn Rader, Amber Waugh, club secretary Juliette Enfield, Helena Deswood, Jonathan Kressin, Sara Moran, Chris Gomez, Lindsay Koby, faculty adviser Geno Picchioni, Marisa Potter and club president Josh Sherman. (NMSU photo by Jay A. Rodman)
One male and one female student examining plants in greenhouse
Josh Sherman, president of the NMSU Horticulture Forum club, and Juliette Enfield, club secretary, examine plants the organization has raised for upcoming Earth Week plant sales in Las Cruces and on the campus. (NMSU photo by Jay A. Rodman)

The Earth Day sale will be Sunday, April 22, between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the Las Cruces Earth Day event in Young Park. The NMSU Earth Week sales will take place on the NMSU campus from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday, April 26, at Gerald Thomas Hall and 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, April 27, outside the Hershel Zohn Theatre.

Club members have raised more than 1,000 plants for the sale. Ornamentals include geraniums, day lily, moonflower, zinnia and miniature rose. Among the vegetables and herbs are several tomato varieties, lettuce, bok choy, basil, parsley, cilantro, thyme, mint and rosemary. Houseplants include spider plants, jade and several varieties of bromeliads. The plants, which vary in size, will sell for as little as $5.

Proceeds of the sale will support the club's educational activities and community service projects.

Although the club has been engaged in plant sales for nearly a decade, aligning with Earth Day is a recent development.

Another new development is the addition of a research aspect to this year's plant raising project. Half of the plants have been fertilized with an organic 10-4-3 soy-based liquid fertilizer, while the remainder received a similar dose of a standard 20-20-20 commercial non-organic water-soluble product.

"The synthetic fertilizers take fossil fuels to make, and they cause salt accumulation," said Josh Sherman, club president and horticulture master's student, explaining the club's interest in an alternative approach. "An added benefit of organic fertilizers is that they take longer to break down into a usable plant form, so they act as a slow-release fertilizer."

Based on visual comparison, the plants treated with the organic fertilizer are growing as well or better than the ones grown with the non-organic product, according to Geno Picchioni, professor of horticulture in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences and one of the club's faculty advisers.

Picchioni said that sustainable greenhouse practices are a hot topic in the industry.

"The results look promising," he said. "And the project teaches them a little about research, and learning by doing."

"The club can now make a 'green' decision and consider the organic fertilizer as a nutrient management option from now on," Sherman said. "Every little bit we can all do contributes that much more to helping our planet - especially for greenhouse operations."

At the upcoming sales, plants will be labeled according to which fertilizer treatment they received and customers will be able to factor that information into their purchasing choices as they compare the plants.

For more information about the NMSU Horticulture Forum club and the plant sales, go to http://aces.nmsu.edu/academics/clubs/hortforum/.