June 15, 2017
Scholarship helps fund green roof research
Tyson Jennett is working on a green roof substate that will retain phosphates.
In 2016, the Ontario Horticultural Trades Foundation (OHTF) awarded $6,000 to Tyson Jennett, a PhD candidate at the University of Guelph researching green roof substrate materials.

The funding was critical to the project getting off the ground, Jennett says, and the results – expected this fall – could lead to more effective substrate materials for the burgeoning green roof industry.

“Typically what is done in the industry is that people will select the materials that go into the substrate by looking at what gives them the physical characteristics that they’re looking for,” Jennett explains. “So it’s a material that holds water well and has a low bulk density and things like that. Whereas, we want to take it one step further, and to do that we are working with a soil chemist on campus to characterize the chemical features of the substrates. We are looking specifically at how these materials bind the various nutrients from a fertilizer to their surfaces.”

University of Guelph professor, Youbin Zheng is working with Jennett on the project. Zheng was instrumental in connecting Jennett with the Foundation scholarship.

“Tyson is one my PhD students who has been working on developing substrates for green roofs and green infrastructure, including constructed wetlands,” Zheng says. “The reason he is doing this is because we know that phosphates are polluting our water and negatively impacting our watersheds and our lakes. And also, phosphates are not a renewable resource, even though they are coming from a variety of sources, including agricultural lands and urban lawns and gardens as well. So [Jennett] is looking at developing a substrate for those contexts which will retain phosphates, rather than flowing out and eventually ending up in our lakes.”

Zheng adds, “At the same time, with green roofs and constructed wetlands, you want the plants to grow, and you want the plants to have access to phosphates to support their growth. It’s an important project because we are seeing green infrastructure, and green roofs in particular, become increasingly popular all over the world, and especially in developed countries like Canada. Green roofs have so many benefits, including storm water management and the prevention of flooding during peak events.”

Jennett says he was drawn to Zheng’s research program because of the collaboration between industry and academia; many other researchers focus on theoretical inquiries. The fact there will likely be direct applications in the green profession was a real driving force behind the project.

“I’ve always been around plants; growing up my father and grandfather were gardeners,” Jennett says. “When I got to university, I became interested in looking at natural ways to remediate heavily polluted sites. There is a lot of active research looking at ways to use plants for remediation instead of dredging soils and using harsh chemicals. And that really led into my interest in greenhouses and using crops to address greenhouse wastewater concerns, and now this research related to green roofs.”

Zheng emphasizes the importance of the Foundation in attracting talented researchers like Jennett to the horticulture profession. “I just want to say that Landscape Ontario and the Foundation do a great job by providing us with these scholarships so that we can draw students to our industry.”

Scholarship applications close June 30

Each year, the Ontario Horticultural Trades Foundation awards over $50,000 in scholarships to high school and post-secondary students across the province. The funding goes to the best and brightest horticulture students who are the future of the profession, and it provides a real boost right when they need it most.

Created in 1979, the Foundation’s mandate is to ensure a healthy future for the horticulture industry through financial support for research and scholarships. With dozens of recipients each year, the foundation makes a major impact on the lives of future green professionals.

Under the Foundation umbrella, the Cullen family scholarship program also sees some $30,000 awarded to students each year.

The deadline to apply for scholarships is June 30. Applying is easy, and generally requires students to send their transcripts and a short essay describing their interest in horticulture. For more information and to apply, visit ohtf.ca.