Growth and nutrient allocation of Douglas-fir seedlings : response to varying ammonium : nitrate ratios and to different methods of nursery fertilizer application




Everett, Kim

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Regeneration of Douglas-fir following harvesting has proven difficult on many sites in British Columbia. As a result, alternative nursery practices are being explored to improve seedling growth. Using two experiments I aimed to identify an improved nutritional program for Douglas-fir seedlings. The objective of the first experiment was to identify the optimum nitrogen (N) source ratio for Douglas-fir between two inorganic sources of N, ammonium (NH4+) and nitrate (NO3-). Seedlings were grown in controlled environments in aeroponic culture with solutions containing 0:100, 20:80, 40:60, 60:40, 80:20 or 100:0 NH4+:NO3- ratios. Growth and nutrient allocation was observed for 45 days. Different NH4+ and NO3-ratios resulted in significant differences in growth and nutrient allocation. Seedlings grown in solutions containing abundant and relatively equal portions of NH4+ and NO3- were characterized by the greatest relative growth rates, greatest biomass and stable internal nitrogen concentrations. Seedlings grown in solutions containing high NH4+ (80:20 and 100:0 NHS+:NO3-) concentrations were characterized by lower relative growth rates, less biomass, lower internal nutrient concentrations and lower rates of photosynthesis and root respiration compared to seedlings with less NH4+ (20:80, 40:60 and 60:40 NH4+:NO3-). Seedlings appeared to take up a greater proportion of NH4+ than NO3- from solution. The objective of the second experiment was to examine the implications of two nursery fertilization regimes for growth and nutrient dynamics. Seedlings were grown in a nursery with nutrients added at a constant rate (conventional fertilization) or at an exponentially increasing rate of 2% day-1 (exponential nutrient loading). At the time of planting, half of the conventionally fertilized seedlings were planted with slow release fertilizer packets. Growth and nutrient allocation was observed for two years following planting. In the field experiment, although exponential nutrient loading applied 25% more N in the nursery compared to the conventional regime, no benefits in growth or nutrient allocation were found. Two years after planting, there were no significant differences in height, root collar diameter or total dry mass between seedlings grown under the different nursery fertilizer regimes. In contrast, seedlings planted with additional fertilizer consistently outperformed seedlings grown with exponential nutrient loading, with greater height, root collar diameter and dry mass. Two growing seasons after planting there were no significant differences among treatments in whole-plant N concentrations.



Douglas fir, seedlings, fertilizers