Survival and Growth of Olive Tree (Olea africana) Seedlings Under Open Field Conditions is Enhanced in Hydrogel Amended Soils Media, Teso Subcounty, Kenya
The rapid decline of timber from natural forests against increasing domestic demand for wood products has caused a steady increase in timber prices in Kenya. Recently, research and development institutions have recognized the ecological and economic value of indigenous tree species and therefore have emphasized the importance of their future production on private smallholder farms rather than in large plantations. This situation has been worsened by climate changes such as the frequent high intensity of prolonged droughts and the nature of soils with poor water retention capacity. As a result, unplanted forest regeneration sites have increased hence a need for re-afforestation of these sites to meet the target for the plantation industry. Therefore, there is a need for mass production of Olea africana seedlings for reforestation programs. One such approach is the application of hydrogels or synthetic polymer organic combinations capable of improving the water and nutrient retention of the soil that can support seedling growth. This study sought to investigate the effects of hydrogel application on selected growth characteristics of O. africana. Seeds were germinated and transferred into two sets of tubes of the same size arranged in a complete randomized block design (CRBD) experiment. The sets were subjected to different levels of hydrogel concentration. Under (0gm as control) and 7gm, 14gm, and 21gm) concentration levels of hydrogel mixed with soil in open field conditions. The height and shoot collar diameter of germinated seedlings were measured every two weeks for two months. The survival of O. africana seedlings decreased with time for all treatments irrespective of the addition of hydrogels with the highest (85%) survival of seedlings on soils mixed with 21gm of hydrogel compared to 0gm hydrogel that recorded (15% survival) eight weeks after transplanting. Application of different levels of hydrogel on soils had a significant influence on the survival of transplanted O. africana seedlings (p˂0.05). Generally, the height of O. africana seedlings increased with time for all types of treatments (0, 7, 14 and 21gm of hydrogel); however, the rate of growth of seedlings was highest (0.667cm /week) on soils treated with 21gm of hydrogel and least (0.33cm/week) on 0gm hydrogel. The shoot collar diameter of O. africana seedlings increased with time for all types of treatments (0, 7, 14 and 21gm of hydrogel); however, the average shoot collar diameter of O. africana seedlings was highest (0.088mm/week) on soils inoculated with 21gm hydrogel and least (0.066mm/week) on soils not inoculated with hydrogel. These results imply that a higher dose of hydrogel significantly enhances the survival and growth characteristics (height and shoot collar diameter) of transplanted seedlings by improving the water-holding capacity of soil and making it available for plant uptake during dry conditions. Hydrogels can therefore be used to amend soils for a sustainable mass regeneration of tropical timber species for reforestation programs, increased forest cover and restoration of biodiversity in Kenya
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