Applying the diagnosis and recommendation integrated system(DRIS) to Fraser fir Christmas trees

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Virginia Tech


The process of diagnosing the foliar nutrient status of Fraser fir [Abies fraseri (Pursh)Poir.] Christmas trees and prescribing fertilizers is not well understood. Agricultural researchers have established critical yield levels for agronomic crops that are objective measures of crop quality and have associated these yields with nutrient status; however, Christmas tree quality is subjective and not well associated with nutrient status. A nutrient-sensitive tree response factor that reflects tree quality is needed for a proper diagnosis. The purpose of this study was to determine the relationship between nutrient balance and indices of tree quality and to evaluate how nutrient balance and tree quality can be manipulated by fertilizer inputs based on the Diagnosis and Recommendation Integrated System.

In 1984 a factorial N, P, pH, fertilizer source, and fertilizer frequency trial was installed in northwestern North Carolina. A randomized complete block design with factorial combinations of all five factors was used. After three years, the fertilizer trial was analyzed to study the effects of fertilizer additions on foliar nutrient balance and tree quality. Several tree response factors were measured in the fall after dormancy. Statistical methods such as correlations and multivariate discriminant analysis were used to determine which response factors were correlated with foliar nutrients and which factor most governed tree quality. DRIS indices were calculated for six independent plots of different fertility treatments.

Basal diameter (BD) was the strongest discriminator of tree quality and was used as a substitute for yield in the DRIS analyses. The importance of nutrient intensity was demonstrated since significant nutrient / dry matter ratios were calculated for N, P, K, and Mg. Balance was shown to be important since the indices for N, K, and Mg were a function of the four other nutrient ratios other than dry matter, and the P and Ca indices were a function of three nutrient ratios other than dry matter. Nutrient balance was also shown to be important by the significant relationship of BD as a function of the nutrient balance index (NBI). When NBI had a relatively small value, large BD trees were produced; as NBI values increased, BD decreased. Fertilizer additions that created nutrient imbalances also decreased BD, in spite of the high nutrient intensities found in the foliage. These results show that nutrient balance in Fraser fir foliage, as well as nutrient intensity, is important for producing optimal Christmas tree quality.