Feb. 17, 2016

James Boodley, co-inventor of Cornell potting mix, dies at 88

James Boodley

James Boodley, professor emeritus of floriculture and ornamental horticulture and a potting mix pioneer, died Feb. 12 in Kent, Ohio. He was 88.

Boodley, along with Cornell colleague Raymond Sheldrake, developed the Cornell Peat-Lite Mixes – which came to be known simply as Cornell Mix – that transformed the greenhouse industry in the 1960s.

The pair based their soil-less mixes on peat moss and perlite and/or vermiculite combined in various proportions with limestone, fertilizer and other ingredients to match the needs of different greenhouse crops. From poinsettias to potted bulbs and orchids to tomato transplants, these lightweight artificial soils provided good drainage, were free of weed seeds and reduced disease problems for growers.

“Cornell Mix revolutionized the industry by providing a uniform and consistent soil-less substrate that made plant care and handling much easier,” says Neil Mattson, associate professor and greenhouse specialist in the Horticulture Section of Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science. “The Peat-Lite recipes formed the basis for modern potting mixes that are still widely used by the commercial greenhouse industry and consumers today.”

Before coming to Cornell as assistant professor in 1958, Boodley received his Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University. He was promoted to full professor in 1968 and served as chair of the Department of Floriculture and Ornamental Horticulture from 1970 to 1975.

In addition to developing the soil-less mixes, Boodley conducted early research on the use of artificial light to speed production in greenhouses, tissue analysis to assess the nutrient status of floral crops, and chemical solutions to prolong the shelf life of cut flowers.

Boodley taught numerous courses on greenhouse management and flower crop production and wrote the widely used textbook “The Commercial Greenhouse.” “It’s considered the bible by many in the greenhouse industry,” says Mattson. “Thousands of today’s industry professionals were trained from this textbook.”

Boodley was elected a fellow in American Society for Horticultural Science in 1982 and received numerous other awards and recognitions. After retiring from Cornell in 1983, he continued his career as manager of horticulture research and product development at the Smithers-Oasis Co. in Kent, Ohio.

Boodley asked that donations be made to Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Horticulture Excellence Fund. Donate online or send checks, payable to Cornell University, to the Horticulture Excellence Fund, School of Integrative Plant Science, 135 Plant Science Building, Ithaca, NY 14853.

Craig Cramer is communications specialist in the Department of Horticulture at Cornell.