Controlling growth and chemical composition of saplings by iteratively matching nutrient supply to demand: A bootstrap fertilization technique


We developed a fertilization technique that results in the control, and maintenance at defined rates and levels, of growth and tissue composition of plants of different sizes and developmental stages growing at exponential and nonexponential rates in solid media under naturally fluctuating light and temperature regimes. Clonal cottonwood (Populus deltoides Bartr.) saplings were grown in sand. Low concentrations of nutrient solution were added daily at different constant exponentially increasing rates for 20-30 days to produce plants with different growth rates and tissue nutrient composition. Matching nutrient supply to measured growth demand by bootstrapping, where bootstrapping is the use of an iterative equation that calculates demand from either actual or desired growth rates, maintained these differences for 20-40 days. Nutrient additions controlled growth of saplings with growth rates between 2.0 and 4.0% day-1, heights between 13.9 and 37.5 cm, dry weights between 0.70 and 3.90 g, leaf nitrogen contents between 1.2 and 3.9%, and leaf carbon/nitrogen ratios between 42.1 and 12.5. The technique was reproducible in a greenhouse without temperature, humidity, or light control, and is easily modified to suit different plant species, plants of various sizes, and various growing conditions.

Document Type




Cottonwood, Foliar carbon, Foliar nitrogen, Growth rate, Nutrition, Populus deltoides, Steady-state growth

Publication Date


Journal Title

Tree Physiology