When looking ahead, like this issue of The Green Times is doing, there is no avoiding looking back. How did we get this far? 

We have lined up some of the pivotal moments in horticultural history, including the invention of fertilizer and the potting machine.

history

of growing things

A BRIEF

1800s

1840-1913

1938

1950s

1967

1967

1970s

1980s

2021

SCROLL DOWN

history

of growing         things

A BRIEF

SCROLL DOWN

When looking ahead, like this issue of The Green Times is doing, there is no avoiding looking back. How did we get this far? 

We have lined up some of the pivotal moments in horticultural history, including the invention of fertilizer and the potting machine.

For the invention of the greenhouse we have to travel quite far back in time: growing plants in environmentally controlled spaces is said to have existed since Roman times. Credit is often given to the French botanist Charles Lucien Bonaparte for building the first practical modern greenhouse in Leiden, The Netherlands, during the 1800s. It was used to grow medicinal tropical plants.

The invention of fertilizer: various people played key roles in the advancement and understanding of plant nutrition. We’ll highlight a few of them here! Justus von Liebig discovered the vital role of nitrogen as an essential plant nutrient and worked out the Law of the Minimum in 1840. The law means that growth is determined by the limiting factor (the most limited nutrient), not by the total of available nutrients. In 1842, John Bennett Lawes from the UK led the discovery of a process for treating phosphate rock with sulfuric acid to produce superphosphate. 

German chemist and Nobel Prize winner Fritz Haber developed a method for producing ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen in 1909. Carl Bosch worked to perfect his method and made it suitable for the first commercial production of artificial fertilizer in 1913.

The creation of the first growing media for commercial use: two researchers at the John Innes Horticultural Institute (UK), Lawrence and Newell, introduced standardized growing media for commercial production in the 1938. Years of experiments into the physical properties and nutrients in composts resulted in two standard “John Innes” mixtures that revolutionized the growing of plants in pots.

At the beginning of the 1950s, due to widening of crop production in greenhouses and containerized nursery, growers switched from field-grown to cultivation in pots & containers.

In 1967, the large US grain firm Archer Daniels Midland Corporation developed the coated fertilizer method. An NPK granule named Osmocote, with an organic resin coating around it, ensured that one application of nutrients would be enough for a long period of time. This marked the start of a whole new principle of fertilizer application.

1967 also saw the invention of the potting machine. Metal worker George Mayer had an idea to make the process of potting plants quicker and easier. He began building multiple prototypes of an automatic machine. Years of tests later, Mayer could finally introduce “The Planter”, the first potting machine with an automatic drill motor. A great time-saver! 


In the 1970s peat replaced loam in Western Europe, as it was light, cheap and widely available. In, for example, Australia and North America, where peat was not so easy to come by, wood-based materials like bark were used.

Following the oil and energy crises of the 70s, the 1980s saw the rise of resource-saving inventions, including climate screens that help save energy and regulate light for optimal cultivation conditions in greenhouses.


2021: the next Osmocote will be introduced! Another innovative step ahead, from the inventors of the original controlled release fertilizer.

1800s

1840-1913

1938

1950s

1967

1967

1970s

1980s

2021

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