The AmericanHort Scholars program aims to sets students in horticulture on a path to success by exposing them to the breadth of the industry, its opportunities and its leaders at the annual Cultivate convention. Each year, six students are chosen for this special experience, giving them insight and awareness of the industry, its supply chain and where they might find a home for their passion.

The scholars who shared their work at Cultivate’22 covered a wide array of topics which touched on diverse but equally important part of the horticulture industry. Learn about some of their research below:

  • “Advancements in Soilless Substrates: How Substrate Selection Influences Water Capture Through Irrigation” – Brian Schulker, North Carolina State University, pursuing a Ph.D. in horticultural substrates

Schulker began by stating that growers, now more than ever, are relying on soilless media to keep up with demand. He added that the industry is estimating four times as much soilless media will be needed by 2050. This is because new kinds of crops are going into containers, including the usually field-grown strawberries, blueberries and raspberries – and even hemp and cannabis.

“My work focuses on how water leaves the substrate, using lysimeter testing,” he explained. (A lysimeter is a device which measures the amount of actual evapotranspiration released by plants.) “I look at where water is leaving the pot over time.”

His work found that water from the tops of pots disappears the fastest, while the middles and bottoms tend to even themselves out.

What does this mean? Schulker explained that understanding substrate dynamic water movement will help enhance crop production efficiency and minimize water loss. Understanding these metrics will also allow the industry to formulate new substrates using optimum material and particle size combinations to reduce evaporative water loss.

“We are continuing to push towards the goals of sustainability in soilless media,” he concluded.

The 2022 AmericanHort Scholars. (Back row, L – R) Daniela Perez Lugones, Lisa Richards and Rachel Swicionis. (Front row) Phoebe Austerman, Brian Schulker and Ethan Jenkins. Photo by Courtney Llewellyn

  • “Moving Forward with Hemp: Looking into a Sustainable Future” – Rachel Swicionis, Southeast Missouri State University, majoring in agribusiness horticulture and agribusiness animal science

The research Swicionis is doing is nothing new – she pointed out that grain fiber and CBD hemp research has a very long history. For example, hempcrete was first used in sixth century France. Today, the horticulture world is partnering with many other industries to find as many sustainable uses for the crop as possible.

Her work crosses over into animal agriculture, looking into grain hemp and ruminants. Grain hemp is part of the oilseed family, like sunflowers and flax. It’s high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids and highly nutritious for cows and sheep.

Additionally, grain hemp can be utilized as a cover crop; used as a rotational crop in high tunnels, reducing the need for herbicides; used as a rotational crop in large acre fields instead of soy and corn (which it’s on par with for recovering nitrogen); and it’s beneficial for both agronomy and horticulture due to its deep taproot system.

Fiber hemp, which is different, is ready for harvest in four months or less and can grow 10 to 15 feet tall. Fiber hemp can be used as a growing medium, instead of peat moss, as it’s fluffy and fibrous. It can be made into pots, plant tags, paper and weed mats. It’s also fire resistant and pest tolerant.

“Growers can harvest the grain and the fiber to diversify their income,” Swicionis noted.

She added that hemp can help the horticulture industry by helping growers switch from plastic products to those made from hemp. “One acre of hemp equals five to eight acres of trees for paper,” Swicionis said. “Hemp can help reduce our carbon footprint, making horticulture a truly green industry.”

  • “Horticultural Marketing – Quick Tips and Basics” – Ethan Jenkins, North Carolina State University, pursing a bachelor’s in horticultural sciences

“Marketing is not the same as advertising,” Jenkins clarified from the beginning. “It fits your specific consumer market. Plants can only sell themselves to a certain extent; marketing helps you better compete and helps build and differentiate your brand.”

The first thing Jenkins recommended for marketing is to look at what information you are providing for customers – the balance and placement of information for your products, whether they’re plants, supplies or value-added goods.

The way that most Americans read labels means that the most important information should be at the center, and then supplemental information and benefits listed to the left, and finally the price noted at the right. Consumers will want the value of the product in their minds before the price, Jenkins said.

Additionally, keep in mind that many customers look at displays from the bottom up. Another useful tip: Sales or discounts are best expressed in percentages, not dollar amounts.

“Red does encourage consumers to purchase more, so use easy background colors and fonts” when using red in your signage, Jenkins added.

Ultimately, though, how much information is provided depends on your target consumer. Those new to horticulture may just want the basics; those who are more hardcore may desire much more.

To learn more about the AmericanHort Scholars program, visit

by Courtney Llewellyn