Nitrogen leaching from Douglas-fir forests after urea fertilization

J Environ Qual. 2008 Aug 8;37(5):1781-8. doi: 10.2134/jeq2007.0367. Print 2008 Sep-Oct.


Leaching of nitrogen (N) after forest fertilization has the potential to pollute ground and surface water. The purpose of this study was to quantify N leaching through the primary rooting zone of N-limited Douglas-fir [Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco] forests the year after fertilization (224 kg N ha(-1) as urea) and to calculate changes in the N pools of the overstory trees, understory vegetation, and soil. At six sites on production forests in the Hood Canal watershed, Washington, tension lysimeters and estimates of the soil water flux were used to quantify the mobilization and leaching of NO(3)-N, NH(4)-N, and dissolved organic nitrogen below the observed rooting depth. Soil and vegetation samples were collected before fertilization and 1 and 6 mo after fertilization. In the year after fertilization, the total leaching beyond the primary rooting zone in excess of control plots was 4.2 kg N ha(-1) (p = 0.03), which was equal to 2% of the total N applied. The peak NO(3)-N concentration that leached beyond the rooting zone of fertilized plots was 0.2 mg NO(3)-N L(-1). Six months after fertilization, 26% of the applied N was accounted for in the overstory, and 27% was accounted for in the O+A horizon of the soil. The results of this study indicate that forest fertilization can lead to small N leaching fluxes out of the primary rooting zone during the first year after urea application.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Fertilizers / analysis*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Nitrogen / chemistry*
  • Pseudotsuga / metabolism*
  • Soil / analysis
  • Time Factors
  • Trees / physiology*
  • Urea / chemistry*
  • Urea / metabolism
  • Washington
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / chemistry
  • Water Supply


  • Fertilizers
  • Soil
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Urea
  • Nitrogen