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Effectiveness of Low-Cost Planting Techniques for Improving Water Availability to Olea europaea Seedlings in Degraded Drylands

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Abstract

Reforestation projects in semiarid lands often yield poor results. Water scarcity, poor soil fertility, and structure strongly limit the survival and growth of planted seedlings in these areas. At two experimental semiarid sites, we evaluated a variety of low-cost planting techniques in order to increase water availability to plants. Treatments included various combinations of traditional planting holes; water-harvesting microcatchments; stone or plastic mulches; small waterproof sheets to increase water harvesting; dry wells; buried clay pots; and deep irrigation. Some of these treatments were also combined with addition of composted biosolids. Waterproof sheets significantly enhanced water harvesting (43%) and soil moisture in the planting hole (40%), especially for low-intensity rainfall events. Treatment effects on the survival and growth of Olea europaea seedlings varied between experimental sites. At the most water-limited site, clay pots, and dry wells improved seedling survival, while no treatment enhanced seedling growth. At the least water-stressed site, the application of composted sludge significantly improved seedling growth. We conclude that nutrient-mediated stress is subordinate to water stress in arid and semiarid environments, and we suggest modifications on the microsite scale to address these limiting conditions in Mediterranean drylands.

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