The sediments dredged from a waterway and decontaminated through a phytoremediation process have been used as substrates alternatively to the traditional forest nursery substrate for pot productions of holm oak (Quercus ilex L.) planting stocks. The substrates, made by mixing decontaminated sediments to agricultural soil at different degrees, were tested in order to evaluate their suitability as growth substrates. The experiment was carried out at the nursery of the Department of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Systems of the University of Florence (Italy). The experimental design consisted of four randomized blocks with six pots as replicates for each of the following treatments: 100% sediments, 66% sediments, 33% sediments, 100% agronomic soil and 100% traditional peat based substrate. In each pot, one holm oak acorn was seeded. Germination and both physiological and morphological traits of the seedlings were analysed during and at the end of the first growing season. Holm oak grown in phytoremediated sediments at higher concentrations showed germination levels comparable to those in the traditional substrate, and survival capacity (especially in 66% sediments) slightly higher than in 100% soil. Physiological performance of seedlings resembled that on the traditional substrate which required the addition of fertilizer, at least for the first growing season. Seedlings grown in mixed substrates with higher sediment concentrations occasionally showed better photosynthetic capacity with improved connectivity between the units of the photosystem II. At the end of the first growing season, height as well as the number of growth flushes of the seedlings grown in sole sediment or soil-sediment substrates were similar to what generally is observed for forest nursery stock of Quercus spp.. Regarding the root-system articulation and growth in depth, results in the mixed substrates were comparable to those for seedlings grown in the traditional forest nursery media, and higher than seedlings grown in 100% agronomic soil. According to our results, the reclamation of dredged sediments can provide appropriate nursery substrate for germination beds for forestry species.
Keywords: Holm oak; Mediterranean ecosystem; Morphological traits; Nursery substrate; Physiological responses; Remediated sediments.
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