Nutrition and growth of birch and grey alder seedlings in low conductivity solutions and at varied relative rates of nutrient addition

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Abstract

Birch (Betula verrucosa Ehrh.) and grey alder (Alnus incana Moench) seedlings were grown with varied relative addition rates of all nutrients, up to optimum for vegetative growth. The root medium was basically distilled water to which the nutrients, contained in stock solutions in fixed proportions, were added every second hour and in exponentially increased amounts for consumption during the subsequent period. The nutrient weight proportions previously found to be required in birch (100 N:65 K:13 P) were used in all treatments. However, the nutrient proportions required in grey alder were found to be somewhat different (100 N:50 K:18 P). The use of the required proportions in the additions was important for maintenance of maximum growth, efficient nutrient utilization, and low concentrations in the root medium. Luxury consumption and inefficiency occurred at high concentrations. The results show that the nutrient requirements are sufficiently defined, for different relative growth rates, by the nutrient proportions and the relative addition rate.

No clear relationships were found between conductivity or concentration in the root medium and the addition rate, net uptake rate, nutrient status, or relative growth rate. The results are in good agreement with data from low concentration and depletion experiments reported in the literature, showing that non-limited uptake rates occur down to very low concentrations. Thus, there is strong evidence that concentration has been incorrectly used when applied as the treatment variable for plant nutrition in plant science and cultivation practice. The dominant factors in sub-optimum and optimum nutrition are the amounts of nutrients available per unit of time, the growth rate, and the nutrient proportions. At low concentration levels, physical factors such as stirring and flow rate of nutrient solution and boundary layer effects are decisive for the rates with which the nutrients become available to the roots. Therefore, at low levels, concentration alone cannot be used as the factor determining nutrient uptake rate. At high levels, concentration is effective as a supra-optimum factor and increased internal percentage contents cause decreased uptake efficiency, thus counter-acting the concentration effect.

Nitrogen effects dominated the stress indications when the internal nitrogen percentage content decreased from optimum to the level of the treatments in the beginning of the experiments. Leaf deficiency symptoms disappeared and the root/shoot ratio change ceased when nitrogen status stabilized. Strong linear regressions were found between any two of the variables: relative addition rate of nutrients, relative growth rate, and nutrient status.

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