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Effects of Five Growing Media and Two Fertilizer Levels on Polybag—Raised Camden Whitegum (<i>Eucalyptus benthamii</i> Maiden & Cambage) Seedling Morphology and Drought Hardiness

Shalizi, Mohammad Nasir, Goldfarb, Barry, Burney, Owen Thomas, Shear, Theodore Henry
Forests 2019 v.10 no.7
Eucalyptus benthamii, composts, containers, developing countries, drought, drought tolerance, fertilizer rates, growing media, irrigation, planting, rice, rice hulls, root shoot ratio, roots, sand, seedling growth, seedlings, topsoil, trees, water stress
In developing countries, tree seedlings are often produced in polybags filled with mixtures of locally available materials. Seedling growth and quality can be affected by the type and amount of these substrates used in the mixture. Differences in seedling growth and quality can also be significantly affected when fertilization is employed during the nursery growing period. In this study, we assessed the effects of five different growing media and two fertilization regimes on nursery growth, seedling morphology and early post-planting response to drought of Eucalyptus benthamii (Maiden &amp; Cambage) seedlings. First, we evaluated the effects of each media by fertilizer treatment combination on morphological attributes during a nursery growing period. Seedlings raised in fertilized media without rice hulls yielded higher growth, root dry mass, shoot dry mass, total dry mass, Dickson quality index (DQI) scores, and number of first order lateral roots (FOLRs). Root to shoot ratio (R:S ratio) was, however, greater in non-fertilized media that contained rice hulls. We then conducted a simulated outplanting and drought hardiness experiment, in which seedlings were planted in 13.2 L containers and irrigated for one month, followed by the imposition of drought stress. Seedlings in fertilized media composed of sand, topsoil and compost showed greater growth than those in rice hull-containing media, during the irrigation phase. With the discontinuation of irrigation and prevention of precipitation reaching the seedlings, seedlings grown in non-fertilized media containing rice hulls survived longer than those in other media. There were no large differences in survival among other media or between fertilized and other non-fertilized seedlings. Seedling total size and shoot height at the time of planting played a major role in survival. Smaller seedlings with smaller shoot sizes and greater R:S ratios survived longer. This study demonstrates that growing media and fertilization can be manipulated to affect seedling morphology in the nursery and, ultimately, seedling performance and survival under water stressed conditions.