Irrigation in pine nurseries

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David B. South
Ryan Nadel


This review provides information and opinions about irrigation practices in pine nurseries. Even when nurseries receive more than 15 mm of rainfall week-1, managers irrigate seedbeds to increase germination, increase seed efficiency, and increase root growth. In the southern United States, a 7-month old pine seedling in an outdoor nursery typically receives 2 to 6 kg of water supplied from either sprinklers (39 nurseries) or center-pivot irrigation (12 nurseries). Most nursery managers do not intentionally subject the crop to moisture stress, since most reforestation sites receive adequate rainfall, and many studies show that reducing root mass does not increase seedling performance. In fact, nursery profits can be reduced by more than $13,000 ha-1 when deficit irrigation reduces average seedling diameter by 1 mm. Although some researchers believe that failure to properly drought stress pine seedlings might increase outplanting mortality by up to 75%, research over the past 40 years does not support that myth. When pine seedlings average 5 mm (at the root-collar), water stress is not a reliable method of increasing tolerance to an October freeze event. In several greenhouse trials, researchers grew and tested seedlings that nursery managers would classify as culls (i.e., dry root mass < 0.5 g). Unfortunately, it is common for researchers to make irrigation recommendations without first developing a water-production function curve.


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South, David B., and Ryan Nadel. “Irrigation in Pine Nurseries”. REFORESTA, no. 10 (January 5, 2021): 40-83. Accessed September 27, 2023.
Review articles
Author Biography

David B. South, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Auburn University, AL

Emeritus Professor


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