Production of balled and burlapped conifers is an important part of the total nursery stock sales of landscape plants grown in the United States. In Idaho, 2005 farm gate value of balled and burlapped plants was U.S. $28.6 million and comprised 71% of all woody nursery stock production in the state (USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2006). Holding methods used for balled and burlapped conifer trees may inadvertently reduce their quality and appearance. By late summer after the trees are dug, balled and burlapped conifers can appear mineral-deficient and unhealthy.
Previous studies have examined the effects of nursery production practices on tree survival and stress resistance in the landscape (Ferrini et al., 2000; Gilman and Beeson, 1996; Lloyd et al., 2006). Alternatively, posttransplanting cultural practices such as irrigation (Gilman and Beeson, 1996) and amending soil around the transplanted root system (Ferrini et al., 2000; Gilman, 2004; Kelting et al., 1998) have also been examined for their effects on subsequent tree growth during establishment in the landscape. Cultural practices used during the holding period between harvest and transplanting into the landscape are often ignored, although holding practices may have profound impacts on plant health and appearance.
Previous studies of conifers (Meyer and Splittstoesser, 1971; Millard and Proe, 1993; Nambiar and Fife, 1991) and deciduous plants (Bi et al., 2004; Deng et al., 1989; Millard and Neilsen, 1989) have demonstrated that nitrogen applied during the previous year can strongly affect growth the next year. Poor mineral nutrition while holding trees in a mulch bed may contribute to a reduction in establishment and growth of trees during the first year or more after transplanting. Therefore, balled and burlapped stock should receive ample mineral nutrition to ensure an adequate growth response after transplanting into the landscape.
The objective of this study was to evaluate nutrient treatments for their effectiveness in maintaining growth and mineral nutrition of balled and burlapped Colorado spruce trees that were held in mulch over the summer. Increases in tree heights and trunk diameters were measured and foliar mineral analyses were completed to determine plant growth responses and nutrient uptake by the trees. In addition, nitrogen availability in the root ball soil was measured to assess fertilizer impact on the soil within the ball while the plants were held in the mulch bed. Finally, growth of terminal leaders was also measured for two growing seasons after 2003 trees were transplanted into a managed landscape.
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