Long-term benefits to tree growth from improved soils, say US researchers

Support for rehabilitating urban soils before planting trees has come from new research in Virginia, USA, which measured its effect on tree growth over six years.

Arlington, VA - image: Ron Cogswell
Arlington, VA - image: Ron Cogswell

They evaluated the growth, canopy development, and physiological response to soil rehabilitation of five tree species over six years in an experimental site pre-treated to replicate typical land development.

After six years, trees on plots which had undergone "profile rebuilding" (compost amendment via subsoiling to 60cm depth, topsoil and rototilling) "matched or surpassed" those in undisturbed agricultural soil in their trunk cross-sectional area and canopy area. The effect was least pronounced in Quercus bicolor (the swamp white oak) while Ulmus 'Morton' showed an 84 per cent gain in canopy area.

In a second experiment evaluating growth and establishment of three additional species one year after soil rehabilitation in urban sites in Arlington County, Virginia, profile rebuilding resulted in 77 per cent trunk cross-sectional area growth after one year.

"Plant and soil-water relations may also be altered by rehabilitation, possibly contributing to its potential as a tool for stormwater mitigation," the researchers suggest, and conclude: "Rehabilitation accelerates establishment and growth of urban trees planted in compacted urban soils indicating that the below-ground environment should be a key component in policy and decision making."

The results are published in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening.

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