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Nikki Hanson, Amy L. Ross-Davis, and Anthony S. Davis

Diminishing milkweed (Asclepias sp.) populations are contributing to the conspicuous decline of the iconic monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). This research sought to improve milkweed propagation success, a core component of summer habitat restoration projects. Specifically, this research assessed the effects of container volume and fertilizer application rate on growth and first year field survival of two species of milkweed common to western North America, namely showy milkweed (A. speciosa) and narrowleaf milkweed (A. fascicularis). Generally, larger roots and shoots developed when plants were given the high rate of fertilizer (6.5 g·L−1) and when reared in the largest containers (2600 mL). For narrowleaf milkweed, nearly all plants developed a firm plug (i.e., one in which the root system remained intact when removed from the container) after 22 weeks. Most narrowleaf milkweed plants flowered 15 weeks after sowing when grown in the largest container with either the low (2.7 g·L−1) or high fertilizer rate or the midsized container (444 mL) with a high rate of fertilizer. For showy milkweed, a firm plug developed for nearly all individuals by the end of the growing season only when given the high fertilizer rate. None of the showy milkweed plants developed an inflorescence by 15 weeks. Results of this research improve our understanding of milkweed propagation and will aid in the efforts to restore the monarch butterfly’s summer breeding habitat by providing propagation protocols across a range of stocktypes.

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Olga A. Kildisheva, R. Kasten Dumroese, and Anthony S. Davis

The results of a series of experiments involving a variety of dormancy-breaking treatments indicate that Munro's globemallow [Sphaeralcea munroana (Douglas) Spach] seeds are physically dormant, possess a cap-like structure in the occlusion of the water gap, which inhibits imbibition, and can be artificially dislodged through boiling water scarification. The highest germination capacity (93%) was achieved by mechanical scarification of previously stored seeds. Exogenous application of a gibberellin solution and cold stratification failed to enhance germination compared with scarification alone, indicating an absence of additional dormancy types. These results should improve the usefulness of this drought-tolerant perennial for landscaping and restoration given its effectiveness in soil stabilization, tolerance to a variety of soil types, extreme temperatures, and ecological importance.

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Layla J. Dunlap, Jeremiah R. Pinto, and Anthony S. Davis

Water conservation in nursery systems is an ever-increasing focus, yet there is relatively little guidance for growers producing seedlings intended for restoration regarding how practices such as subirrigation influence plant growth in the nursery and after outplanting. Our study investigated red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum Pursh) seedling development and early field performance using different fertilizer treatments under a subirrigation regime. Plants were fertilized with 1) incorporated organic fertilizer, 2) incorporated controlled-release fertilizer, 3) top-dressed controlled-release fertilizer, or 4) water-soluble fertilizer. We found that seedlings grown with organic fertilizer used significantly less water than all other treatments. Media electrical conductivity (EC) levels were significantly greater in the organic fertilizer treatment, and EC values in the top portion of the media were significantly greater than the middle or bottom portions for all fertilizer treatments. The remaining subirrigation water at the end of 22 weeks held 17% of applied nitrogen (N) from the water-soluble fertilizer treatment and less than 1% of applied N from the other fertilizer treatments. We observed no differences in plant morphology among fertilizer treatments. Seedlings were subsequently out-planted into low- and high-competition treatments, where myriad factors indicated reduced growth among high-competition compared with low-competition plots, highlighting that competition for soil water limited seedling performance. These results indicate that a variety of fertilizers can be used to grow red-flowering currant under subirrigation and that postplanting growth is enhanced with control of competing vegetation.

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R. Kasten Dumroese, Douglass F. Jacobs, and Anthony S. Davis

Restoration of Acacia koa A. Gray (koa) forests on degraded sites in Hawaii is important for conservation of rare, endemic plants and animals and is often accomplished by planting nursery-grown seedlings. To be successful after outplanting, koa seedlings must access sufficient nutrients from the soil and outcompete other vegetation. Forming symbiotic associations with nitrogen-fixing microorganisms may help alleviate inherent nutrient deficiencies found on volcanic sites, but interactions between inoculation and fertilization during production of koa seedlings are not well studied. Under operational nursery conditions, we fertilized koa seedlings at six controlled-release fertilizer (CRF) rates (ranging from 0 to 11.9 kg·m−3 Osmocote Plus 15N–9P–12K), which were also either inoculated with a locally collected source of nitrogen-fixing Bradyrhizobium spp. or not. Fertilized seedlings were significantly larger than the control; on average, fertilized seedlings were 300% taller and had 180%, 700%, and 350% more root-collar diameter, shoot biomass, and root biomass, respectively. Nitrogen (N) concentration was 23% to 119% greater in fertilized seedlings than nonfertilized seedlings. Inoculation with Bradyrhizobium had no significant affect on seedling characteristics except for root N concentration, which was 8% higher for inoculated seedlings. Fertilizer rate and inoculation interacted to significantly affect nodule number and nodule biomass/seedling. With inoculation, we observed an increase in nodule number (16.5 to 25.5) and biomass (5.8 mg to 11.7 mg) with fertilizer rate up to 4.7 kg·m−3 but a decline to nearly zero at the highest rates. Without inoculation, nodule formation was scarce (3.2 nodules/seedling or less) and only observed when CRF was 2.3 kg·m−3 or less. Our results suggest that high rates of fertilization and successful nodulation are not mutually exclusive nursery practices. Concurrent use of fertilization and inoculation in the nursery may provide opportunity to produce larger seedlings that have high potential to reduce the time needed to achieve canopy closure and thereby help achieve restoration objectives.

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Anthony S. Davis, Matthew M. Aghai, Jeremiah R. Pinto, and Kent G. Apostol

Because limitations on water used by container nurseries has become commonplace, nursery growers will have to improve irrigation management. Subirrigation systems may provide an alternative to overhead irrigation systems by mitigating groundwater pollution and excessive water consumption. Seedling growth, gas exchange, leaf nitrogen (N) content, and water use were compared between overhead irrigation and subirrigation systems used to produce trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) seedlings. After 3 months of nursery culture, subirrigation resulted in a 45% reduction in water use compared with overhead irrigation. At the end of the growing season, subirrigated seedlings had lower net photosynthetic assimilation, stomatal conductance (g S), and leaf area, indicating earlier leaf senescence. However, no significant differences were detected for biomass, leaf N content, height, root-collar diameter, or root volume. Thus, we suggest that subirrigation systems offer promising potential for aspen seedling production when compared with overhead irrigation given the added benefits of water conservation and reduced nutrient runoff. Continuing emphasis on refinement such as determining the plant water requirements based on growth and development as well as container configuration is needed so that the intended benefits of using subirrigation can be realized.

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K. Francis Salifu, Michael A. Nicodemus, Douglass F. Jacobs, and Anthony S. Davis

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.