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Effect of wood ash and nitrogen fertilization on soil chemical properties, soil microbial processes, and stand growth in two coniferous stands in Finland

Saarsalmi, Anna, Smolander, Aino, Kukkola, Mikko, Arola, Merja
Plant and soil 2010 v.331 no.1-2 pp. 329-340
Picea abies, Pinus sylvestris, acidity, ammonium nitrogen, boron, calcium, copper, fertilizer application, long term effects, magnesium, microbial biomass, mineralization, nitrification, nitrogen, nitrogen fertilizers, phosphorus, soil chemical properties, soil microorganisms, soil quality, tree growth, wood ash, Finland
The aim of our study was to investigate long-term effects of wood ash fertilization, given together with nitrogen, on soil chemical properties, soil microbiological processes related to C and N cycling, and tree growth. The study was carried out in a 31-year-old Scots pine stand and in a 45-year-old Norway spruce stand 15 years after application. The treatments were (1) a control with no ash or nutrient addition, (2) wood ash + N (WAN), and (3) a stand-specific fertilization (SSF) formulated on the basis of analyses carried out on needle and soil samples taken from the stand. The SSF treatments included N, Cu and B, and in the spruce stand also P. WAN decreased acidity and increased the extractable Ca, Mg and P concentrations in the organic layer in both stands, but SSF had no effect. The microbial processes reacted more strongly to the treatments in the pine stand, whereas the growth response, although only relatively slight during the third 5-year period after fertilization, was detected only in the spruce stand. WAN increased the NH₄-N concentrations in the organic layer compared to the control and SSF treatments on both sites. In the pine stand, amount of N in microbial biomass and both the C and net N mineralization rates were significantly higher in the WAN treatment than in the SSF treatment. On both sites net nitrification was negligible in all treatments. Soil microbial biomass, microbial respiration and N availability have been used as indices for assessing the biological activity and health of soil, and these parameters either increased or were not affected by the WAN treatment. Hence, with regard to these parameters there are justifiable grounds for applying wood ash.