Developing DRIS norms for Fraser fir Christmas trees

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Virginia Tech

Fraser fir [Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir.] is an important Christmas tree species in Virginia. Because it is responsive to fertilization, and because most Fraser fir growers fertilize their crop, a scientifically-based nutrient diagnosis and fertilizer recommendation system is needed. The objective of this study was to develop and test DRIS norms for Fraser fir Christmas trees grown in Virginia for the ultimate purpose of establishing a nutrition diagnosis and fertilizer prescription system. A total of 107 Fraser fir plantations were sampled for foliage, soil, and diameter measurements. These plantations represented the range in site conditions and management practices for Fraser fir Christmas trees grown in Virginia. Foliage was analyzed for N, P, K, Ca, Mg, Zn, Mn, Fe, Cu, and B. Soil was analyzed for extractable macro- and micronutrients. DRIS norms were developed from these data using standard DRIS procedures. A total of 42 nutrient ratios were significant discriminators of tree performance as measured by variation in ground line diameter. The norms were tested using sixth year data from a factorial fertilizer trial. Nutrient limitations due to both deficiencies and imbalance were detected and correctly diagnosed using the newly-derived norms. A complete validation is required, but this preliminary test showed that these norms are useable and useful in their present form. In the process of developing and testing the norms, modifications to traditional DRIS methods were used to meet the special conditions of this crop. DRIS symmetry was maintained by including non-significant ratios, but setting their standardization functions equal to zero. This reduced the influence of the non-discriminating nutrient ratios on the DRIS analysis. Norm ranges as opposed to discrete norms (ratio means) were used to correct for the influence of extremely variable micronutrient ratios on the DRIS analysis. Soil norms did not enhance diagnoses over and above using foliar norms alone. This is due to soil sampling variation, poor correlations of extractable nutrients with tree performance, and an incomplete understanding of fertilizer reactions and uptake chemistry in a variety of soils. Each crop presents unique challenges in the application of DRIS. DRIS should not be naively applied without investigating these problems. The DRIS norms established in this study, and the modifications to standard DRIS methods, provide a sound scientific basis upon which to build a nutrient diagnosis and fertilizer recommendation system for Fraser fir Christmas trees grown in Virginia.