, Volume 30, Issue 2-3, pp 295-311

Quantifying root system quality of nursery seedlings and relationship to outplanting performance

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Abstract.

With over 1.5 billion forest tree seedlings produced annually in the USA, seedling quality assessment is critical to ensure reforestation success. While height and root-collar diameter are the most common traits evaluated during seedling quality assessment, above-ground morphology is not always an accurate predictor of performance after outplanting. Root system morphology and physiological status may provide a more accurate indication of seedling potential. However, relatively few studies have attempted to quantitatively assess root system quality in relation to outplanting success. Large root volume, high root fibrosity, and an increased number of first-order lateral roots have shown some correlation to improved field performance. Physiological seedling quality assessment is commonly practiced through evaluation of root growth potential. Other tests, such as root electrolyte leakage, have also shown some potential as measures of seedling physiological quality. This review identifies current methods of assessing seedling root system quality and discusses potential shortcomings of these methods. An increased understanding of the suitability of current tests, coupled with the development of new tests and multiple parameter relationships, may foster the development of species and site-specific targets for seedling root system quality assessment. The production of seedlings with root systems that meet high morphological and physiological standards better enables seedlings to rapidly establish and thrive upon outplanting.