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Nitrogen fertilization of hybrid poplar plantations in Saskatchewan, Canada

Booth, N.W.H.. 2008. University of Saskatchewan


The increasing input costs for traditional agriculture has led land owners and producers in search of alternative opportunities to increase on-farm income. Replacing agricultural crops with short rotation woody species such as hybrid poplar trees is a form of agroforestry. The objectives of this project were to evaluate: 1) a suitable planting stock for hybrid poplar, 2) the effect of nitrogen (N) fertilizer application and pruning on hybrid poplar growth and, 3) the response of four hybrid poplar clones to fertilizer application and their suitability in the boreal transition ecoregion of Saskatchewan. Two trials were established near Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan where three stock types (cuttings, root cuttings and rooted plugs) of Walker poplar were planted into former alfalfa and pasture fields. Trees were pruned each spring to remove multiple leaders and fertilized in year 2 with 100 kg N ha-1. The presence of roots on rooted cutting and plug stock types was beneficial in terms of hybrid poplar growth and survival. Trees grown from planting stock without roots had survival rates between 32-37% whereas, the survival of trees with roots at the time of planting ranged from 62-81% after two years of growth. Trees that were planted as a rooted stock were 3.5 to 4.2 times greater in height and 4.0 to 5.6 times greater in root collar diameter than trees planted as an un-rooted stock type. The application of fertilizer N decreased tree volumes by 31% at the Alfalfa site and had no effect on tree growth at the Pasture site. The total amount of fertilizer N recovered by the hybrid poplar trees ranged from 1-3% at the Alfalfa site and 3-5% at the Pasture site. The second study involved planting four clones of hybrid poplar (Hill, Katepwa, Walker and WP-69) at the same two sites and applying fertilizer at rates of 0, 150 and 300 kg N ha-1 the first two years. Following the second growing season, Katepwa and WP-69 clones had the highest tree volumes of 750 and 1147 cm3of the four clones evaluated. The Walker clone had the poorest survival rates (52-56%) compared to the other three clones (> 90% survival). Foliar N levels were not correlated with tree height at the Alfalfa (p=0.1326) or the Pasture (p=0.1063) sites. The relationship between foliar P concentration and tree height was more pronounced during July at the Alfalfa site with an r2 value of 0.7102. The N:P ratios for foliar tissue decreased with increasing fertilizer III N application during August at the Alfalfa site. Foliar N:P ratios were the same among fertilizer and clone treatments at the Pasture site in August. Results from this study suggest that rooted stock types increase the successful establishment of hybrid poplar plantations. However, application of N fertilizer may not increase growth of trees if soil N is adequate. Other soil nutrients need to be measured prior to fertilization to determine what nutrients may be limiting plant growth.