We evaluated suitability of chemical indices of three media formulations or substrates (A, B, and C) consisting of composted pine bark, coconut coir pith, sphagnum peatmoss, processed bark ash, and perlite in varied proportions for growing northern red oak (Quercus rubra L.) seedlings. These substrates were ranked according to their ability to promote seedling growth. The low-yielding substrate (A) was devoid of pine bark and perlite and the medium-yielding substrate (B) contained no peatmoss or processed bark ash. The high-yielding substrate (C) contained all components. Additionally, we tested plant response to high nitrogen (N) fertilization on each substrate. Media EC, pH, and total dissolved solids measured at transplanting explained 68%, 43%, and 66%, respectively, of the variation in plant dry weight and 39%, 54%, and 46%, respectively, of the variation in shoot height. Vector diagnosis effectively ranked nutritional limitations on seedling growth as N > P > K. High N fertilization highlighted element deficiency in seedlings grown on substrate A, but resulted in element toxicity and antagonistic interactions in plants established on substrates B and C, respectively.