Studies of nutrient limitation in Douglas-fir forests of the Pacific Northwest focus predominantly on nitrogen, yet many stands demonstrate negligible or even negative growth response to nitrogen fertilization. To understand what nutrients other than nitrogen may limit forest productivity in this region, we tested six fertilizer treatments for their ability to increase stem volume growth response of dominant and co-dominant trees in young Douglas-fir plantations across a range of foliar and soil chemistry in western Oregon and Washington. We evaluated responses to single applications of urea, lime, calcium chloride, or monosodium phosphate at 16 sites, and to two site-specific nutrients blends at 12 of these sites. Across sites, the average stem volume growth increased marginally with urea, lime, and phosphorus fertilization. Fertilization responses generally aligned with plant and soil indicators of nutrient limitation. Response to nitrogen addition was greatest on soils with low total nitrogen and high exchangeable calcium concentrations. Responses to lime and calcium chloride additions were greatest at sites with low foliar calcium and low soil pH. Response to phosphorus addition was greatest on sites with low foliar phosphorus and high soil pH. Blended fertilizers yielded only marginal growth increases at one site, with no consistent effect across sites. Overall, our results highlight that calcium and phosphorus can be important growth limiting nutrients on specific sites in nitrogen-rich Douglas-fir forests of the Pacific Northwest.
Additional publication details
Three-year growth response of young Douglas-fir to nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, and blended fertilizers in Oregon and Washington