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Nutrient loading of forest tree seedlings to promote stress resistance and field performance: a Mediterranean perspective

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>09/2013
<mark>Journal</mark>New Forests
Issue number5
Volume44
Number of pages21
Pages (from-to)649-669
Publication statusPublished
Early online date7/08/13
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The planting environment of Mediterranean areas is highly challenging as summer drought and winter frost jeopardize survival, and soil infertility limits establishment success. We review the potential for seedling nutrient loading to alleviate these post-planting stresses. A growing body of evidence indicates that nitrogen (N) rich seedlings have improved field performance in Mediterranean environments, due to their ability to grow new roots rapidly and out-compete weeds. In addition, frost resistance during hardening is crucial for relatively cold inland nurseries; recent research shows a positive relationship between N and shoot frost resistance though a knowledge gap exists regarding the influence of nutrition on root frost resistance. Some new evidence also implicates phosphorus as an important driver of seedling response in the Mediterranean due to its influence on root growth and physiology. Nutrient status influences other functional attributes critical to survival in Mediterranean areas, such as drought tolerance, root hydraulic conductivity, and mycorrhization. In light of the apparent benefits of high nutrient reserves for seedling performance in Mediterranean areas, we also review techniques for nursery nutrient loading. Exponential fertilization can be applied when species’ growth patterns match this application regime. However, many Mediterranean species exhibit episodic growth indicating that constant or fall fertilization could be more effective in reaching loading. In particular, late-season fertilization has shown good potential to avert nutrient dilution in the fall and increase frost resistance. Several needs for future research are identified, with special emphasis on the necessity to match fertilization regimes to species ecological traits and planting conditions.