Tag Archives: shade trees

Irrigation: Drought Physiology of Ornamental Shade Trees

Sadie Keller

Highlights:

  1. Shade tree growers need to be prepared for the effects of climate change in Oregon.
  2. In order to equip growers with the tools necessary for production success, we aim to determine critical shade tree stress thresholds, characterize plant responses to drought conditions, and correlate remotely collected spectral images with ground based plant water stress measurements.
  3. Previous studies have sought drought response measurements for Acer rubrum (Red Maple) and Quercus rubra (Red Oak), but never in a nursery production setting.
  4. We aim to disseminate this information to Oregon shade tree growers at the completion of this experiment with the hope to aid growers in making data driven irrigation decisions and demonstrate the use of these technologies in nursery production settings.
Sadie in some of the shade trees equipped with soil moisture sensors and a weather station.
Sadie Keller in the shade trees equipped with soil moisture sensors and a weather station.

The Problem:

In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the heart of the nursery country, rainfall is scarce during the summer and humidity is low. Oregon’s dry summer conditions can lead to low moisture stress conditions for maples and oaks in normal years. Plant stress resulting from low soil moisture, high heat, and low relative humidity have been exacerbated in recent years with the increasing frequency of heatwaves and drought. Drought and heat stress scorch the maple and oak canopies, which can lead to decreased plant quality and economic losses for shade tree growers. Sensor-based technologies can be used to model plant responses to environmental gradients to develop warning systems to help growers prevent stress and bridge a knowledge gap in the nursery production industry regarding drought responses.

How are we studying plant stress responses?

Starting late June 2022, we will implement two irrigation treatments (well-watered and drought) in our shade tree planting with each row having independent irrigation control. The well-watered rows will be maintained at a soil water potential of  >-1.0 mPa. The drought treatment rows will be allowed to naturally dry down to a soil water potential of -4 mPa. If during the experiment, our metrics (stomatal conductance and stem water potential) do not show considerable responses at -4 mPa tension, we will allow the drought treatment to continue to dry down progressively (-1 mPa) until stress is evident.

Why and how do we measure stem water potential?

Plant water status is commonly defined in terms of water potential or the ability of the water to do work. In most cases, well watered plants have “high” water status and drought conditions lead to a “low” water status (Levin and Nackley 2021). Using the pressure chamber, we will take midday stem water potential measurements twice weekly from 12pm-3pm. This time frame is important because it represents the time of day where leaf transpiration is at its maximum.

The pressure chamber
The pressure chamber (https://www.pmsinstrument.com/)

First, we will cover the leaf and stems to be measured with an opaque bag for at least 10 minutes before pressurization to allow the plant to stop transpiring. Once we excise the sample from the tree it should be placed into the pressure chamber or “pressure bomb” within 30 seconds (Levin 2019). Once the stem is placed into the chamber and pressure is applied, the amount of pressure that it takes to cause water to appear at the cut surface tells us how much tension the stem is experiencing.

Why and how do we measure stomatal conductance?

We measure stomatal conductance using a porometer that measures the degree of stomatal openness and the number of stomata (Licor.com). This indicates the plant’s physiological response to its current environment. If a plant is stressed, it will tend to close its stomata and lower the stomatal conductance rate. We will be using a combination of the LI-6800 Portable Photosynthesis System and the LI-600 Porometer/Fluorometer to make our measurements twice a week from 12pm-3pm.

For more information:

Please stay tuned in the coming months for more blog posts about how we will find plant stress thresholds by measuring the hydraulic conductivity of these shade trees. We will also correlate remotely collected spectral and thermal images with our ground based plant stress measurements to demonstrate how implementing a UAS equipped with a multispectral and thermal camera can be used to detect water stress in nursery production.

Plant Health: When Do Shade Trees Do What They Do?

Brian Hill

A Phenology Study is underway at NWREC!

The pretty flowers of spring, shade providing leaves of summer, and fire like colors of fall help us know when the seasons are changing. We use calendars to plan everything in our lives. Nature does the same but not in the same way.

Progression of seasonal changes in shade tree crown and color
Shade tree seasonal progression from spring (top left) to fall (bottom right).

What causes trees to change?

We can all remember early spring weather that was warm and dry as well as those years when we hoped our 4th of July BBQ would not get rained out. These weather differences from year to year influence events in nature that are crucial for species to survive. Plants and insects go dormant over the cold winter and begin growing in the spring and do it without a single calendar. They use day length and temperature to schedule their life events. The day length in the Willamette valley changes from 8 hours and 46 minutes in winter to 15 hours and 36 minutes in summer. These changes are predictable because they are cause by the tilt of the Earth, which doesn’t change. Our calendars align with these dates (winter solstice and summer solstice).Temperature, however, is unpredictable because there are a vast number of factors that influence it.

What changes are we monitoring?

A large part of the nursery industry in Oregon is dedicated to growing shade trees. Best management practices require monitoring for signs of event changes throughout the tree’s life cycle. This is known as Phenology, defined as the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life. The Nackley Lab has a small in ground tree nursery that we use for experiments. For the past 3 years we have been conducting a Phenology Study where we have tracked the dates our tree events happened.

Monitored events in our Phenology study

  1. Bud Break: Date when the protective scale coating is shed from the bud exposing the tender new growth shoot
  2. First leaf: Date the first leaves are completely unfolded on at least 3 branches
  3. All Leaves Unfolded: Date when 90% of buds have reached first leaf
  4. First Flower: Date the first flowers are opened and stamens are visible on at least 3 branches.
  5. Full Flower: Date when half or more of the flowers are fully open
  6. First Ripe Fruit: date when the first fruits become fully ripe or seeds drop naturally
  7. Full Fruiting: Date when half or more branches have fully ripe fruit or have dropped seeds
  8. 50% Color: Date when half or more of the branches have leaves that have started to change color
  9. 50% Leaf Fall: Date when half or more of the leaves have fallen off the tree
image shows the phenology stages of flowering trees
Phenological stages of flowering trees from bud break (top left) to full flower (bottom right).

How can this information be useful?

As we collect data in year 3 (2022) of this study we are excited for how this data may be used in the future. Temperature data can be used to make degree day models which are based on heat units. The number of heat units per day are added together in a running total. This information is much better at predicting events in nature when compared to calendars. When growing shade trees in a production nursery setting, defending the crop from disease and predators is essential. Spraying a tree with a fungicide at bud break keeps them growing healthy. Spraying pesticides at first flower protects trees from insect attacks. By creating degree day models, growers can predict when to apply chemical protection for trees, eliminating double applications caused by calendar reliance.

Growers know the uncertainty caused by a changing climate impacts tree growth events. It’s hard not to trust the calendar dates which we plan everything else in our lives by. Future projects include modeling the events recorded over the last 3 years, and seeing how they align with degree day accumulation. The end goal is to use what we’ve learned to help keep the labor and pesticide costs down for the local nurseries while the produce the beautiful tree’s we all depend on.