Selected fertilizer formulations were assessed for their capacity to enhance growth and nutrition of Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi Grev. & Balf.) seedlings on an acidic and possibly toxic Sierran surface mine when applied three years after planting. In a study encompassing five growing seasons conducted on a semiarid, montane surface mine site on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, seedling survival, dimensions, and volume measurements were coupled with foliar and soil analyses for macronutrients, micronutrients, and potentially phytotoxic metallic elements. Administered by broadcasting at four rates each, the formulations consisted of an organic amendment derived from municipal biosolids; a controlled release fertilizer containing urea, ammoniacal, and nitrate N sources; and two conventional fertilizers with one featuring urea as the predominant N form while the other delivered ammoniacal and nitrate forms. None of the formulations induced seedling mortality regardless of application rate, but the controlled release fertilizer and the conventional urea-based formulation were the most stimulatory overall, with intermediate rates of both proving most advantageous among those tested. Foliar analysis revealed that enhanced N and P nutrition, which was otherwise severely impacted by soil infertility, possibly along with that of K, probably accounted for most of the growth stimulation by the amendments, but an accessory role may have been attributable to reduced concentrations of potentially phytotoxic metallic elements, principally Mn but possibly including Fe, Cu, and Al, for which soil levels were all exceedingly elevated. With careful selection of formulation and application rate, post-planting broadcast fertilization can enhance growth and nutrition of Jeffrey pine on degraded substrates. These results provide a more complete understanding of the benefits that judicious fertilization can impart to young forest stands on surface mines and other harsh sites.
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