It is important to develop a better understanding of the climatic and soil factors controlling the stem diameter growth of Qinghai spruce (Picea crassifolia
Kom.) forest. The results will provide basic information for the scientific prediction of trends in the future development of forests. To explain the seasonal pattern of stem diameter growth of Qinghai spruce and its response to environmental factors in the Qilian Mountains, northwest China, the stem diameter changes of 10 sample trees with different sizes and soil and meteorological conditions were observed from May to October of 2015 and 2016. Our results showed that the growth initiation of the stem diameter of Qinghai spruce was on approximately 25 May 2015 and 20 June 2016, and stem diameter growth commenced when the average air and soil temperatures were more than 10 °C and 3 °C, respectively. The cessation of growth occurred on approximately 21 August 2015 and 14 September 2016, and it was probably controlled by soil moisture. Stem diameter growth began earlier, ended later, and exhibited a larger growth rate as tree size increased. For the period May–October, the cumulative stem diameter growth of individual trees was 400 and 380 μm in 2015 and 2016, respectively. The cumulative stem diameter growth had a clear seasonal pattern, which could be divided into three growth stages, i.e., the beginning (from day of year (DOY) 120 to the timing of growth initiation with the daily growth rate of less than 2 μm·day−1
), rapid growth (from the timing of growth initiation to the timing of growth cessation with the daily growth rate of more than 2 μm·day−1
), and ending stages (from the timing of growth cessation to DOY 300 with the daily growth rate of less than 2 μm·day−1
). The correlation of daily stem growth and environmental factors varied with growth stages; however, temperature, vapor pressure deficit (VPD), and soil moisture were the key factors controlling daily stem diameter growth. Overall, these results indicated that the seasonal variation in stem growth was regulated by soil and climatic triggers. Consequently, changes in climate seasonality may have considerable effects on the seasonal patterns of both stem growth and tree growth.
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