Conifer seedlings grown in bare-root nurseries are frequently damaged and destroyed by soil-borne pathogenic fungi that cause root rot. Relationships between nursery cultural practices, soil characteristics, and populations of potential pathogens in the soil were examined in three bare-root tree nurseries in the Midwestern USA. Soil-borne populations of Fusarium spp. and Pythium spp. were enumerated as a function of soil depth in the upper 42 cm; red and white pine seedling root systems were assessed visually for signs of root rot. Soil organic carbon and resistance to cone penetration (as a function of depth) were augmented by saturated hydraulic conductivity (K(sat)), water retention characteristic, texture and pH at selected depths. Cone index (CI) provided accurate 'fingerprints' of cultural practices in each nursery. A tillage pan due to rotary tillage was detected by CI in the Minnesota and Wisconsin nurseries, but no such tillage pan was indicated in the Michigan nursery, which did not use rotary tillage. Curves of CI also indicated differing maximum depth of tillage disturbance between nurseries; maximum rooting depth based on 3 MPa CI were different among nurseries. Vertical distribution of soil-borne Fusarium spp. reflected the vertical incorporation pattern associated with the type of tillage implement used to incorporate cover crop residue prior to Pinus seedling establishment. Peak numbers of Fusarium spp., from 250 to 950 colony-forming units (cfu g-1 dry soil) were recorded between 12 - 24 cm depth in two nurseries using a moldboard plow for incorporation while steadily decreasing populations, from 1800 to 250 cfu g-1 dry soil, were found from 0 to 15 cm in the third nursery using a disc. Vertical distribution of the Fusarium spp. also correlated with organic carbon levels, which suggested that cover-crop incorporation and conifer rooting had determined the location of soil-borne Fusarium spp. propagules. K(sat) suggest that tillage pans caused by rotary tillage may impede drainage during nearly daily irrigation enough to cause physiological stress to the seedlings and predispose them to disease. Low levels of mortality (from < 1% to 5%) were observed in two-year-old Pinus seedlings while disease severity varied by nursery and seedling species. Tillage should be used to control depth placement of biomass residue and pathogenic fungal propagules, and adjusted to prevent tillage pans within the seedling root zone. More studies are needed to determine the impact of these cultural controls on the need and application depth of fumigation for pathogen control.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The technical assistance of Tom Hill, Richard Johnson, Dan Meyer, Ron Overton, Dwayne Stenlund, and Spencer Stone in the set-up and execution of these studies is gratefully acknowledged. This research was partially funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry and is based on a portion of an MSc thesis by the second author (Gust, 1996).
- Cone penetrometer
- Fusarium spp.
- Incorporated biomass
- Soil organic matter