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Nitrogen Management in a Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri [Pursh] Poir.) Christmas Tree Plantation: Effects of Fertilization on Tree Performance and Nitrogen Leaching

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There is increasing concern over the effects of nitrogen (N) pollution resulting from fertilizer inputs to food and fiber production systems. Christmas tree production is one segment of the forestry sector that uses substantial fertilizer inputs. However, we know very little about the environmental costs and production benefits of N fertilization in Christmas tree plantations. I studied the costs and benefits of 2 years of N applications (as ammonium sulfate) at 0, 47, 95, and 140 kg N ha−1 year−1 to 4-year-old Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) Christmas trees. These rates correspond to 0, 50, 100, and 150% of the amount recommended for 4-year-old trees, and 33, 67, and 100@ of recommendations for 5-year-old trees. There were no significant effects of fertilization rate on tree growth or morphology. In contrast, foliar N concentrations increased with increasing rates of N application, and there was a trend toward improved foliage health (indicated by chlorophyll fluorescence) at the lowest application rate. Mineral N (NH+ 4 + NO 3) concentrations in water leaching below the rooting zone increased markedly with increasing N application rates. Lysimeter NO 3 concentrations in the highest application treatment were consistently 20–30 times greater than the safe drinking water standard of 10 mg NO 3-N/l. Together, these results suggest that conventional guidelines for fertilization of Michigan Fraser fir plantations greatly exceed the capacity of trees and surface soils to store N, provide no benefit to tree growth, and create the potential for significant N pollution of ground and surface waters. Furthermore, these results indicate that applying N at a lower rate of 47 kg N ha−1 year−1 substantially reduced NO 3 leaching with no decline in growth rates or tree quality. FOR. SCI. 51(2):175–184.

Keywords: Christmas trees; environmental management; fertilization; forest; forest management; forest resources; forestry; forestry research; forestry science; natural resource management; natural resources; nitrate leaching; nitrogen pollution

Document Type: Regular Article

Affiliations: Department of Forestry Michigan State University 126 Natural Resources Bldg. East Lansing MI 48824-1222 Phone: (517) 432-3353;, Fax: (517) 432-1142, Email:

Publication date: 2005-04-01

More about this publication?
  • Forest Science is a peer-reviewed journal publishing fundamental and applied research that explores all aspects of natural and social sciences as they apply to the function and management of the forested ecosystems of the world. Topics include silviculture, forest management, biometrics, economics, entomology & pathology, fire & fuels management, forest ecology, genetics & tree improvement, geospatial technologies, harvesting & utilization, landscape ecology, operations research, forest policy, physiology, recreation, social sciences, soils & hydrology, and wildlife management.
    Forest Science is published bimonthly in February, April, June, August, October, and December.

    2015 Impact Factor: 1.702
    Ranking: 16 of 66 in forestry

    Average time from submission to first decision: 62.5 days*
    June 1, 2016 to Feb. 28, 2017

    Also published by SAF:
    Journal of Forestry
    Other SAF Publications
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