Successful field establishment of vegetable transplants often depends on the ability of young seedlings to tolerate various biotic and abiotic stresses after transplanting. Treatments that limit transpirational water loss could improve plant survival and stand establishment. In this study we evaluated growth and physiological responses of pepper (
Capsicum annuumL.) seedlings to foliar application of chemical plant regulators [abscisic acid (ABA) and aminoethoxyvinylglycine (AVG)] or physical film-forming barriers [AntiStress (AS), Transfilm (TF), and Vapor Gard (VG)] during transient 4-day water deficit cycles. During two 4-day water deficit cycles, stomatal conductance ( gs) and net CO2 assimilation rate (ACO2) were unaffected by the application of physical materials, but differed for ABA and AVG. Compared with untreated control plants, ABA reduced gs (47% to 69%) and ACO2 (37% to 57%) by the end of the second water deficit cycle, whereas AVG increased gs (27% to 60%) during the first desiccation cycle. Leaf (lf) and stem (st) xylem water potential of plants treated with film-forming materials generally decreased at the same rate as those of untreated plants, whereas application of AVG caused earlier and more pronounced decline of lf. Application of ABA enabled the maintenance of lf and st during two desiccation cycles, and thus prevented an increase of electrolyte leakage and leaf abscission. Growth rates of all plant components were reduced after ABA applications. However, allometric relationships showed similar patterns of dry matter allocation in leaves and shoots among ABA, TF, VG, and untreated control plants. Application of AS reduced allocation of dry matter to leaves, whereas AVG enhanced it at the expense of roots. These data indicate that water deficit tolerance of pepper seedlings only occurred with foliar application of ABA. This effect was associated with improved plant water relations, increased cell membrane stability, reduced leaf abscission, and a transient reduction in plant growth rates.