Seedlings of several conifer species can be difficult to transplant, with the problem often related to poor root regeneration. The objective of this study was to determine if corkbark fir (Abies lasiocarpa arizonica) seedlings or pinyon pine (Pinus edulis) seedlings would produce more root growth when grown in a Missouri gravel bed growing system compared to field soil. The 3–0 fir seedlings and 4–0 pine seedlings were planted in a gravel bed in mid-April. The gravel bed was 3 m × 3.7 m and was filled with a mixture of 60% pea gravel (1 cm minus), 30% Turface®, and 10% silica sand (by volume). A field bed 3 m × 3.7 m in size was also prepared. Fir seedlings were harvested in September and October, but pinyon pine seedlings were harvested only in October due to their poor transplant survival. Plant heights, stem diameters, and root volumes, as well as root and shoot dry weights, were determined at harvest. Of all the measured growth parameters for both species, only root dry weights and root volumes were significantly different. In particular, fir seedlings grown in the gravel bed produced at least 30% more root dry weight and 74% more root volume than those planted in field soil whether plants were harvested in September or October. Likewise, pine seedlings grown in gravel produced at least 37% more root dry weight and 86% more root volume than those grown in soil. In addition, only 10.6% of the pine seedlings planted in soil survived transplanting, but 23.3% of those grown in the gravel bed survived. This study demonstrated that corkbark fir and pinyon pine seedlings grown in a gravel bed produced larger root systems than those planted into field soil, and the gravel bed also improved pinyon pine seedling survival after transplanting.
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