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Revista Chapingo serie ciencias forestales y del ambiente

On-line version ISSN 2007-4018Print version ISSN 2007-3828

Rev. Chapingo ser. cienc. for. ambient vol.24 n.2 Chapingo May./Aug. 2018 

Scientific article

Growth and survival of a plantation of Pinus greggii Engelm. ex Parl. var. greggii under different fertilization treatments

Isaac Vázquez-Cisneros1 

José A. Prieto-Ruíz2  * 

Miguel A. López-López3 

Christian Wehenkel4 

Pedro A. Domínguez-Calleros2 

Fernando E. Muñoz-Sáez5 

1Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango, Programa Institucional de Doctorado en Ciencias Agropecuarias y Forestales. Constitución núm. 404 sur, zona centro. C. P. 34000. Durango, Durango, México.

2Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango, Facultad de Ciencias Forestales. Av. Río Papaloapan y bulevar Durango s/n, col. Valle del Sur. C. P. 34120. Durango, Durango, México.

3Colegio de Postgraduados, Campus Montecillo. km 36.5 carretera México-Texcoco. C. P. 56230. Montecillo, Texcoco, Estado de México, México.

4Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango, Instituto de Silvicultura e Industria de la Madera. Bulevar del Guadiana núm. 501, Cd. Universitaria. C. P. 34120. Durango, Durango, México.

5Universidad de Concepción, Facultad de Ciencias Forestales. Victoria núm. 631, Barrio Universitario. Concepción, Región del Biobío, Chile.



The forestry sector in Mexico faces deforestation problems and low productive growth. To activate unproductive regions, in the state of Durango, the establishment of Pinus greggii Engelm. ex Parl. var. greggii plantations is promoted.


To evaluate the effect of fertilizers on growth, nutrient status and survival of P. greggii var. greggii seedlings.

Materials and methods:

Five slow-release fertilizers and two fertilizers for agricultural use were studied in doses of 7 and 14 g per plant, and a control (unfertilized).

Results and discussion:

After 12 months significant differences were found (P < 0.001) in volume, height, and diameter increments, due to the effect of fertilizers. In comparison with the control, only slow-release fertilizers 12-25-12, 09-23-14 and 18-06-12 of N-P-K had increases in height and diameter, as well as wood volumes, significantly higher. In the case of foliar concentrations, only P showed significant differences between treatments (P = 0.030). N and P were limiting, but the application of K favored growth. Regarding the survival of seedlings, no significant differences were found attributable to fertilizer and its doses.


The initial application of slow-release fertilizers 12-25-12, 09-23-14 and 18-06-12 of N-P-K favors growth of P. greggii var. greggii seedlings.

Keywords: slow-release fertilizer; agricultural fertilizer; nutrient; forest plantation; seedlings


The forest sector in Mexico faces two important challenges: deforestation and scarce productive growth (Comisión Nacional Forestal [CONAFOR], 2014). Traditionally, the products of the forest industry come from natural forests; however, they can also be obtained from forest plantations, thereby reducing the ecological pressure exerted by the use of resources (Brown & Ball, 2000; CONAFOR, 2012).

In Mexico, around 325 000 ha of commercial forest plantations are reported, mainly in the South and West of Mexico (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales [SEMARNAT], 2017). In the state of Durango, in the last 10 years, 4 963 ha of commercial plantations have been established (SEMARNAT, 2017) with the aim of reconverting unproductive regions (Carle, Vuorinen, & Lungo, 2002; Jacobs et al., 2015). Among the most used species Pinus greggii Engelm ex Parl. var. greggii stands out since, this species has acceptable growth rates in height (55 cm per year) and diameter (1.2 cm per year) (López-Ayala, Vargas-Hernández, Ramírez-Herrera, & López-Upton, 1999; Salazar et al., 1999), as well as adaptability to low humidity conditions (between 400 and 600 mm per year) (CONAFOR, 2010; Domínguez, Návar, & Loera, 2001; Domínguez-Calleros, Rodríguez-Laguna, Capulín-Grande, Razo-Zárate, & Díaz-Vásquez, 2017). This species is endemic to Mexico, distributes in the northern region in semi-arid zones of Coahuila and Nuevo León (Ramírez-Herrera, Vargas-Hernández, & López-Upton, 2005) and has economic relevance because of its wood for the industry of sawmill, poles, fences and firewood (Ramírez-Herrera et al., 2005).

The success of a forest plantation depends on several factors, the most important are related to the species, origin, plant quality, land preparation, weed control, prevention of pests and diseases, and nutrition (CONAFOR, 2012; Fox, 2000). The latter is related to biochemical, physiological and morphological changes of the plant that affect wood performance and quality (Ibell, Xu, Blake, Wright, & Blumfield, 2014).

Fertilizers provide nutrients to plants. Some are slow-release fertilizers, so that they assure permanent availability for a certain time; diffusion depends on temperature and humidity (Reyes-Millalón, Gerding, & Thiers-Espinoza, 2012). In contrast, in fertilizers for agricultural use, nutrients are available immediately and, in some cases, for a short period; when used excessively they can cause stress on roots or even death of plants (Landis & Dumroese, 2009). On the other hand, the costs of slow-release fertilizers and fertilizers for agricultural use differ considerably, agricultural fertilizers are cheaper, aspect that should be considered when making recommendations in fertilization programs for commercial forest plantations. In this context, the objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of slow-release fertilizers and agricultural fertilizers on survival, growth and nutrient status of a Pinus greggii var. greggii plantation. The hypothesis postulates that at least one fertilizer must stand out from the remaining ones in terms of seedlings growth and survival of the species studied.

Materials and methods

Plantation site

The experiment was established in the ejido Aquiles Serdán, municipality of Durango, Durango, Mexico. The ejido is located at the geographic coordinates 23° 53' 39.24'' N and 104° 33' 43.94'' W, at an altitude of 1 898 m. The average annual temperature is 16.59 °C; the coldest month is December with an average temperature of 2.58 °C and the warmest month is June with an average temperature of 28.91 °C. The average annual rainfall is 715.8 mm (Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales Agrícolas y Pecuarias [INIFAP], 2017). The land has slight waves and a slope lowerthan 3 %. The soil has loamy texture, neutral pH (6.9) and low organic matter (1.05 %). These and other soil physicochemical properties were determined based on the Norma Oficial Mexicana NOM-021-RECNAT-2000 (SEMARNAT, 2002); the information obtained is shown in Appendix 1.

Establishment, treatments and experimental design

The seed was collected from 20 trees located in Alberca, Coahuila (23° 32´ N and 100° 52´ W, altitude 2 400 m). The plants were grown in a nursery using polystyrene containers with 77 cavities, with a capacity of 170 mL per cavity. The plantation was established on July 24, 2014 using 10 month-old seedlings with average height and diameter of 34 cm and 3 mm, respectively. Soil preparation was made with agricultural tractor (subsoiling at 40 cm). The plants were deposited in strains of 25 to 30 cm deep and their distribution was in real frame with a spacing of 2 m between plants and lines.

The experiment had a completely random design; seven fertilizers were evaluated in doses of 7 and 14 g and a control (unfertilized). Table 1 shows the nutrient composition of the fertilizers evaluated. Each treatment had four replicates and each experimental unit consisted of 12 plants. Prior to planting, fertilizers were incorporated into the bottom of the strains, to avoid direct contact with the roots; then about 40 g of soil was added and the plants were placed. Plants were not irrigated during the evaluation period.

Table 1 Nutrient composition of the fertilizers evaluated in the Pinus greggii var.greggii plantation. 

Formulation N-P-K Release time (months) Nitrogen (%) Phosphorus (%) Potassium (%)
P2O5 P K2O K
Control - - - - - -
Agricultural fertilizer 16-16-16 - 16 16 6.98 16 13.28
Agricultural fertilizer 18-46-00 - 18 46 20.06 - -
Slow-release fertilizer 09-23-14 9 9 23 10.03 14 11.62
Slow-release fertilizer 12-25-12 9 12 25 10.90 12 9.96
Slow-release fertilizer 14-14-14 4 14 14 6.10 14 11.62
Slow-release fertilizer 17-17-17 4 17 17 7.41 17 14.11
Slow-release fertilizer 18-06-12 9 18 6 2.62 12 9.96

Plant evaluation

The test was carried out on July 30, 2015. Survival was quantified by a binary scale, assigning values of 0 to dead plants and 1 to living plants. Height increments (cm) and base diameter (mm) were obtained from the differences between the initial and final measurement of each plant. The stem volume was estimated with the following equation (Balám-Che, Gómez-Guerrero, Vargas-Hernández, Aldrete, & Obrador-Olán, 2015):

V = 0.0333 0.7854 * DBT2* H


V =

volume (cm3)


diameter at the base of the trunk (cm)

H =

total height (m)

0.7854 =

factor π/4

0.0333 =

factor of the conical shape.

On the other hand, the foliar concentration of N, P and K was determined in needles from the last flow of growth of three seedlings per treatment; also, dry weight of 100 dehydrated needles was obtained using a drying oven at 70 °C for 72 h. With these data, vector nomograms were made (Haase & Rose, 1995; Timmer, 1991) to know the relationship between nutrient concentration and biomass. N was estimated with the Kjeldahl method, P by means of yellow vanadomolybdate complex colorimetry and K by means of atomic emission (SEMARNAT, 2002).

Statistical analysis

Analyzes were carried out using the statistical software R 3.2.3 (R Core Team, 2015). To know the variability of growth explained by the addition of nutrients, coefficients of determination (R2) were obtained from a linear regression between the contents of N, P2O5 and K2O in each fertilizer and height and diameter increment variables. Seedlings survival values and foliar N-P-K concentration were transformed with the arcsine and square root function, since these values were expressed in percentage (Steel & Torrie, 1988). The Kruskal-Wallis non-parametric statistical test (Kruskal & Wallis, 1952) was used for the variables evaluated, because the data did not meet the assumption of normality; subsequently, a mean separation test of Bonferroni-Dunn was carried out (P < 0.05) (Pohlert, 2014). The statistical model used was as follows:

Yi=µ + αi+ ei


Y i =

response variable

µ =

data general mean

α i =

mean difference of the i-th treatment

e i =

residual error

Results and discussion

Height, diameter and volume increments of Pinus greggii var. greggii

The application of K favored the growth of seedlings (Table 2), even though this element was not deficient in the site (0.99 cmolc·kg-1, Appendix 1). The NOM-021-RECNAT-2000 indicates average values of K from 0.3 to 0.6 cmolc·kg-1 of soil (SEMARNAT, 2002). In addition to fertilizer, factors such as water availability, type of soil and temperature influence the growth of plants, which together are associated with the capacity to assimilate nutrients (Núñez, 2013).

Table 2 Matrix of coefficients of determination (R2) between the nutrients applied and height and diameter increments 

Diameter 0.1942 0.1356 0.2447
Height 0.1749 0.0928 0.2380

In agreement with Table 3, volume and height and diameter increases showed significant differences (P < 0.001) due to the effect of fertilization treatments. Slow-release fertilizers had increments similar to those caused by agricultural fertilizers in the three variables evaluated; slow-release fertilizer 12-25-12 stood out, although, statistically, the effect was the same as the rest of the treatments. In comparison with the control, only the slow-release fertilizers 12-25-12, 09-23-14 and 18-06-12 of N-P-K promoted height and diameter increments, as well as wood volumes, significantly higher.

Table 3 Height and diameter increments, and volume of Pinus greggii var. greggii seedlings after a year of establishment, under fertilization treatments. 

Fertilization treatments (N-P-K) Height increases (cm) Diameter increases (mm) Volume (cm3)
Control 9.32 ± 1.73 c 3.30 ± 0.58 c 1.7 ± 0.4 c
Agricultural fertilizer 16-16-16 19.28 ± 2.11 abc 6.23 ± 0.66 abc 9.6 ± 2.1 abc
Agricultural fertilizer 18-46-00 17.87 ± 1.81 abc 6.14 ± 0.57 abc 6.7 ± 1.3 abc
Slow-release fertilizer 09-23-14 23.06 ± 2.18 ab 7.61 ± 0.68 ab 11.4 ± 1.5 ab
Slow-release fertilizer 12-25-12 29.49 ± 2.76 a 9.17 ± 0.76 a 19.8 ± 2.9 a
Slow-release fertilizer 14-14-14 20.77 ± 2.12 abc 7.03 ± 0.66 ab 9.8 ± 1.4 ab
Slow-release fertilizer 17-17-17 16.01 ± 2.04 bc 5.51 ± 0.61 bc 7.3 ± 1.6 abc
Slow-release fertilizer 18-06-12 23.45 ± 2.33 ab 7.30 ± 0.66 ab 11.5 ± 1.7 ab

Different letters for the same variable indicate significant differences between treatments according to the Bonferroni-Dunn test (P < 0.05). ± Standard error of the mean.

On the other hand, according to Table 4, the doses of fertilizers (7 and 14 g) caused significant differences in height (P = 0.002), diameter (P < 0.001) increases and in volume (P = 0.001) only with respect to the control (without fertilizer). Oliet et al. (2009) tested two slow-release fertilizers (9-13-18 and 17-10-10 NPK) in doses of 3, 5 and 7 g, and an unfertilized control, and determined that the formulation 9-13-18 of NPK in dose of 7 g generated the greatest increments in diameter and height of Pinus halepensis Mill.

Table 4 Increments of height and diameter, and volume of Pinus greggii var. greggii seedlings one year from establishment, under the fertilization doses tested. 

Dose Height (cm) Diameter (mm) Volume (cm3)
Control 9.32 ± 1.73 b 3.30 ± 0.058 b 1.72 ± 0.45 b
7 g 21.31 ± 1.19 a 6.87 ± 0.35 a 10.45 ± 0.95 a
14 g 21.53 ± 1.21 a 7.13 ± 0.36 a 11.38 ± 1.13 a

Different letters for the same variable indicate significant differences between treatments according to the Bonferroni-Dunn test (P < 0.05). ± Standard error of the mean.

In general, agricultural fertilizers had lower efficiency in the nutrient contribution. This agrees with the results of Reyes-Millalón et al. (2012), who found a better response in the growth of P. radiata D. Don with slow-release fertilizers than with water-soluble fertilizers and the control (without fertilization); Everett, Hawkins, and Kiiskila (2007) also observed a similar trend with Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca (Beissn.) Franco. Gotore, Murepa, and Gapare (2014) found a particular response in the growth of Pinus patula Schiede ex Schltdl. & Cham.; these authors suggest that the addition of nutrients is not necessary in the initial stage of planting. However, the present study demonstrates that nutrient management is important in the plantation of P. greggii var. greggii, since it generated a significant response in growth; this is indicated by Román, Vargas, Baca, Trinidad, and Alarcón (2001), who demonstrated that the nutrient management of P. greggii var. australis with nutrient solutions increased height, diameter and biomass.

The variables height, diameter and volume had significant differences between treatments; however, it is convenient to make future evaluations of the plantation to determine if the same differences remain or if others occur, which will probably happen during crown closure, which is the stage of greatest nutrient demand.

Survival of Pinus greggii var. greggii

Survival did not have significant differences due to the effect of fertilization (P = 0.799) and the doses tested (P = 0.241). It is possible that the reduced percentage of survival of control trees (52.1 %), agricultural fertilizers 16-16-16 (59.4 %) and 18-46-00 (64.4 %), as well as slow-release fertilizers 09 -23-14 (64.6 %), 12-25-12 (67.7 %), 14-14-14 (63.5 %), 17-17-17 (59.4 %) and 18-06-12 (67.7 %), owes more to the conditions of low moisture availability in the soil, than to plant needs for nutrients (Haase & Jacobs, 2013; Reyes-Millalón et al., 2012). Perez, Valeri, Cruz, and Vasconcelos (2016) indicate that an adequate or even high level of K promotes the most efficient use of water in plants. In this study, probably, K exerted this effect and, therefore, influenced survival.

It is worth mentioning that the values obtained by any of the treatments evaluated exceed the national figure of survival after one year of planting in the reforestations: 36 % according to Wallace et al. (2015) and <50 % according to Burney et al. (2015). In addition, taking into account that P. greggii var. greggii is an exotic species in Durango, survival values are acceptable, even though CONAFOR demands 80 % survival in the first year.

Foliar concentration of nutrients

Table 5 shows the results of the determination of foliar concentration of N, P and K in P. greggii var. greggii. The fertilizers used did not generate significant differences in foliar concentrations of N (P = 0.536) and K (P = 0.603), but there were differences in those of P (P = 0.030). The existence of similar concentrations of N may be due to its condition of deficiency in the site, which allows to suppose that the nutrient was absorbed by the plants and diluted within the biomass (López-López & Estañol-Botello, 2007).

Table 5 Foliar concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in Pinus greggii var. greggii, after the first year of planting. 

Fertilizer (N-P-K) N (%) P (%) K (%)
Control 1.422 a 0.120 ab 0.877 a
Agricultural fertilizer 16-16-16 1.602 a 0.126 a 0.957 a
Agricultural fertilizer 18-46-00 1.400 a 0.113 ab 0.996 a
Slow-release fertilizer 09-23-14 1.410 a 0.113 ab 0.960 a
Slow-release fertilizer 12-25-12 1.578 a 0.119 ab 0.873 a
Slow-release fertilizer 14-14-14 1.393 a 0.110 ab 0.885 a
Slow-release fertilizer 17-17-17 1.392 a 0.111 ab 0.884 a
Slow-release fertilizer 18-06-12 1.361 a 0.105 b 0.864 a

Different letters for the same variable indicate significant differences between treatments according to the Bonferroni-Dunn test (P < 0.05).

Even though it is an adequate nutrient in soil (Appendix 1), K favored more the growth of seedlings (Table 2), because it probably promoted a better use of water (Perez et al., 2016). If this effect had occurred, it is likely that foliar K has tended to be diluted in the biomass, generating only small and insignificant changes in the foliar concentrations of the nutrient (Table 5) (López-López & Alvarado-López, 2010). In contrast, the foliar concentrations of P were modified as the nutrient was added in the fertilizing formula; apparently the immediate release of nutrients by the agricultural fertilizer 16-16-16 allowed the increase of foliar P, while, the slow-release fertilizer, due to its durable condition, only released small portions of nutrients for a longer time. This implies that P was deficient in the site before applying the treatments (3.0 mg·kg-1, Appendix 1), since the NOM-021-RECNAT-2000 indicates as mean values 5.5 to 11 mg·kg-1 (SEMARNAT, 2002).

Regarding fertilizer doses, there were no significant differences in foliar concentration of N (P = 0.079), P (P = 0.535) and K (P = 0.592). In the comparison of nutrient foliar concentrations, the absence of differences between treatments is frequent, due to the presence of dilution effects due to seedling growth (López-López & Alvarado-López, 2010).

The vector analysis, shown in Figure 1a, indicates that the slow-release fertilizers 09-23-14, 14-14-14, 18-06-12 and the agricultural fertilizer 18-46-00 N-P-K, generated an increase in the weight of needles and the reduction in the concentration of foliar N, nutrient that was deficient before applying it; such an interpretation agrees with the soil analysis (0.05 % is considered low [SEMARNAT, 2002]) and the behavior of the foliar concentration of N (Table 5) (López-López & Alvarado-López, 2010). This same effect is observed in P with the slow-release fertilizers 09-23-14, 14-14-14 and 18-06-12, and the agricultural fertilizer 18-46-00 (Figure 1b), and in the case of K with the slow-release fertilizer 06-18-12 (Figure 1c). This indicates that these nutrients were insufficient to increase the biomass of needles, which is often directly related to the total biomass of seedlings (Timmer & Stone, 1978).

Figure 1 Vector nomograms of fertilization treatments with different formulations in Pinus greggii var. greggii. AF: Agricultural fertilizer and SRF: Slow-release fertilizer. 

The nomogram of N also shows that the agricultural fertilizer 16-16-16 and that of slow-release 12-25-12 have a vector that indicates a decrease in the weight of needles, and an increase in the foliar concentration of N (Figure 1a). Apparently it is an effect of N concentration, due to the limitation of growth by some factor probably linked to fertilizers. Likewise, the vector of the slow-release fertilizer 17-17-17 reflects weight reduction of needles and foliar concentration, this may be due to an antagonistic effect with another nutrient (López-López & Alvarado-López, 2010) that decreased the availability of N. That same tendency is observed in P with the slow-release fertilizer 17-17-17 and 12-25-12 of N-P-K, while in K that was only observed with the slow-release fertilizer 12-25-12 of N-P-K.

On the other hand, in the nomogram of K it is observed that the vectors of slow-release fertilizers 09-23-14, 14-14-14 and that of agricultural use 18-46-00 indicate increase in weight of needles and increase in concentration (Figure 1c), this suggests that K was deficient before treatment; K insufficiency was corrected and a high consumption occurred (López-López & Alvarado-López, 2010). According to soil analysis, K is sufficient and it seems that this nutrient improved the water status of the seedlings and their growth (Román et al., 2001), despite the fact that water is a limiting factor in the area.

In general, slow-release fertilizer 17-17-17 induced reduction of foliar biomass (Figure 1). Apparently, P was the deficient nutrient in the plots that received slow-release fertilizer 17-17-17 from N-P-K (Figure 1b), in which case, the foliar concentration decreased up to 0.11 %. P is a nutrient highly prone to pH conditions (<5 precipitation, > 5 adsorption, occlusion and reversion) and it is likely that it has restricted absorption (Núñez, 2013) in fertilizer 17-17-17, decreasing the growth, including that of the roots; the same effect may also have reduced the absorption of N and, to some extent, that of K.


The initial application of slow-release fertilizers 12-25-12, 09-23-14 and 18-06-12 of N-P-K favored growth in height, diameter and volume of the Pinus greggii var. greggii seedlings compared to the control treatment. Fertilization treatments did not influence the one-year survival of the plantation establishment. With regard to foliar concentration, only phosphorus showed significant differences between treatments. Nitrogen and phosphorus were limiting, but the application of potassium favored growth even when this element is in the soil at sufficient levels. The experimental site is deficient in nitrogen and phosphorus, which is why the application of nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers is recommended in the establishment of P. greggii var. greggii plantations.


The authors thank the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT) for the financial support for the doctorate studies of the first author; the Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP), who financed part of the research through the Programa para Desarrollo Profesional Docente (PRODEP); and the Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango, for providing measurement and financing equipment through the Facultad de Ciencias Forestales.


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Appendix 1.

Physicochemical properties of soil of Pinus greggii var. greggii plantations in the Ejido Aquiles Serdán, Durango, Mexico 

Variable Minimum Mean Maximum Standard error
Organic matter (%) 0.99 1.05 1.06 0.02
Sand (%) 23.08 33.08 41.08 3.74
Silt (%) 33.64 41.14 47.64 2.87
Clay (%) 23.28 25.78 29.28 1.26
pH 6.08 6.9 7.1 0.07
CE (dS·m-1) 0.03 0.04 0.05 <0.01
N (%) 0.05 0.05 0.05 <0.01
N-NO3 (ppm, mg·kg-1) 10.22 12.18 17.29 1.71
N-NH4 (ppm, mg·kg-1) 14.15 18.67 21.22 1.68
P Olsen (ppm, mg·kg-1) 3.00 4.63 5.75 0.58
K (cmolc· kg-1) 0.99 1.07 1.22 0.05
Ca (cmolc·kg-1) 5.86 6.48 7.07 0.32
Mg (cmolc·kg-1) 1.13 1.24 1.31 0.04
Na (cmolc·kg-1) 0.15 0.15 0.15 <0.01
Fe (ppm, mg·kg-1) 11.12 12.52 14.22 0.75
Cu (ppm, mg·kg-1) 0.05 0.06 0.07 <0.01
Zn (ppm, mg·kg-1) 0.23 0.34 0.42 0.04
Mn (ppm, mg·kg-1) 32.55 55.64 93.39 13.37
Texture Loamy

Received: May 31, 2017; Accepted: March 23, 2018

*Corresponding author:, tel.: +52 (618) 130 1148

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