Washington, July 13 : Studies indicate a spray-on formula increases plants' tolerance of cold temperatures by several degrees.
The spray, which is not yet commercially available, can improve plants' cold tolerance between 2.2 and 9.4 degrees Fahrenheit, depending upon the species.
It was developed by Dr. David Francko, a professor of botany, who co-developed the spray and who serves as dean of The University of Alabama graduate school and assistant vice president for academic affairs.
Research results indicate that the spray, which the developers have named 'Freeze-Pruf', is effective on a variety of plants, including palms, tropical houseplants, bananas, citrus plants and flowers.
Commercial growers, including those growing edible bananas in south Alabama, would benefit from the longer growing season that a more cold tolerant plant would provide.
"It moves your temperature zone about 200 miles, so it's highly significant," Francko said of the spray's impact on banana plants. rancko, who developed the spray along with Kenneth Wilson, Quinn Li and Alejandra Equiza, all from Miami (Ohio) University, envisions the spray also appealing to backyard gardeners looking to protect flowers from a late frost and nursery owners looking to cash in on an approved appearance for their high dollar ornamentals.
A patent application on the product, a novel mixture that combines five ingredients in a water-based spray formula, was filed earlier this year.
The inventors are working with The University of Alabama's Office for Technology Transfer on the possibility of licensing the product to a company for commercial production or, alternatively, forming a UA spin-off venture to commercialize the technology.
"Each ingredient has a different function, but when you put them all together you get an effect that is larger than any single component, alone," said Francko. "It's non-toxic, it's cheap, and the idea is to apply it once per season," he added.
Francko called cold tolerance products as one of the "holy grails" of horticulture.
"There are a number of existing patents designed to improve cold tolerance, but the best that is out there gets you about 1 to 2 degrees centigrade, or 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit, of freeze protection," said Francko.
The existing sprays typically protect plants in weather only as low as the mid to upper 20s Fahrenheit.
According to Francko, "Our spray works all the way down to below zero Fahrenheit, depending on the plant you're working on. It really does take advantage of the plant's genetic pre-adaptation and improves it," he added.
Freeze-Pruf lowers both the temperature at which damage first becomes noticeable in plants as well as the temperature that would normally kill the plant, according to the research results.
"It protects both the foliage and the flower," said Francko.