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Comparison of Organic and Chemical Soil Amendments Used in the Reforestation of a Harsh Sierra Nevada Site



Abstract A comparison of a composted organic amendment, a controlled-release fertilizer, and induced mycorrhizal inoculation as affecting the establishment and nutrition of bareroot Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi Grev. & Balf.) was conducted on a Sierra Nevada surface mine. The soil amendments were applied at outplanting to the backfill of augered planting holes, with a low rate of 8 g and a high rate of 16 g per seedling for the fertilizer, Gromax 21-6-2 + Minors, whereas a single rate of 2.0 L was used for organic matter. Colonization by Pisolithus tinctorius (Pers.) Coker & Couch was induced by coating the root systems with basidiospores suspended in a gel carrier. The organic amendment especially, but also mycorrhizal inoculation, caused substantial seedling mortality, whereas survival was unaffected by controlled-release fertilization. Gromax applied at the high rate produced a 74% increase in shoot volume after three growing seasons, whereas the organic amendment reduced volume by 28%. Growth was unaffected by mycorrhizal treatment. The growth response to the 16-g Gromax application probably reflected enhanced N, P, and K nutrition and decreased concentrations of potentially toxic metallic elements, including Mn and Al among others, as revealed through foliar analysis. Because they were accompanied by growth reduction, nutritional responses to the organic amendment, which involved both macronutrients and trace elements, were of little consequence. Impaired water relations may account for the poor response to this amendment. Likewise, nutritional responses to mycorrhizal inoculation produced no discernible benefit in terms of seedling performance. An inoculation procedure that failed to induce substantially greater P. tinctorius colonization in inoculated than uninoculated seedlings, and that may have also impaired water relations, likely explains this result. Overall, these findings indicate that further research is needed before either the organic amendment or the mycorrhizal inoculation procedure used here can be used in forest restoration efforts on dry sites.

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