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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.