Research in Progress

Research fulfills the third dimension of the Horticulture Substrates Lab, with the first two being teaching and outreach/engagement (through services and analytical diagnostics). With 50 years of combined experience, Drs. Jackson and Fonteno specialize in the development, characterization, and evaluation of horticultural substrates and substrate components. Combining our varied and broad interests, skill sets, strengths, and endless passion for “all that is substrates”, we strive to answer the real-world problems of growers and soil/substrate manufacturers in the United States, North America, and beyond. In addition to problem-solving, our lab strives to be innovative in developing technologies, protocols, and guidelines to advance the scientific knowledge base of substrates and soilless culture.

Horticultural Substrates Lab montage



The work in our lab is focused on every aspect of growing plants in containers. Beginning with the development, engineering, formulation, and testing (chemical and physical) of various substrate materials, all the way to the evaluation of plant growth in those materials. A large emphasis in our lab has been the development of various techniques and methodologies for viewing, assessing, studying, and characterizing the root growth of plants in containers. An area of substrate science we call “Rhizometrics”.


Precision Horticulture

As precision agriculture/horticulture continues to evolve and as more and more food other crops are being grown in controlled environments, the need for new, uniquely engineered, and highly specialized substrates will continue to rise. The science behind substrates/growing media is changing and improving just like the genetics of the plants grown in them and the fertilizer, herbicides, growth regulators, etc. applied to those plants. We contend that substrates are to horticulture what Atlas is to the World he holds in the famous depiction from Greek Mythology….the base and foundation upon which all else is dependent.

Atlas photo showing substrates as based to horticulture


Substrate Science Research Topics

  • Substrate Processing and Research Center (SPARC)
  • Engineering and Constructing Wood Substrates
  • Engineering and Constructing Pine Bark Substrates
  • Mini-Horhizotrons & Rhizometrics
  • Pine Wood Chip Aggregate Development and Utilization
  • Substrate Wettability, Initial Hydration, and Water Capture
  • Substrate Hydrological Properties: Dewpoint Technology and Substrate Water Potentials
  • Rhizometer and Root Tracing Techniques
  • Mulch & Soil Council Certification Program
  • Substrate Testing & Diagnostics
  • Biochar Production, Characterization, and Chemistry
  • Organic Matter Aging, Stabilization, and Utilization
  • Pine Tree Substrate Beginnings 2005-2008
  • Pine Tree Substrate Greenhouse Research 2005-2008
  • Pine Tree Substrate Species, Toxicity, and Root Growth 2005-2008
  • Pine Tree Substrate Plant and Landscape Trials 2005-2008
  • Pine Tree Substrate Construction and Storage 2005-2008

For more information on these topics, or other substrate-related inquires please contact me at


Lab Working Groups

Our lab is very active in the Working Groups of Growing Media, Composting, and Substrate Analysis which are all in the Commission on Plant Substrates and Soilless Culture within the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS).