Research Highlights: In central Ontario, large quantities of non-industrial wood ash (NIWA) are generated and could be used as a forest soil amendment to counteract soil acidification and base cation depletion caused by decades of acid deposition. Background and Objectives: The properties and biogeochemical responses of NIWA have not been thoroughly explored, and field experiments must be conducted before NIWA can be regulated as a forest soil amendment in Ontario. Materials and Methods: In this study, soil chemistry and sugar maple (Acer saccharum
, Marsh.) seedling growth and chemistry were measured in an acidic sugar bush over twelve months following a NIWA field experiment. Plots (2 m by 2 m) were established with sugar maple, white pine (Pinus strobus
L.), and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis
Britt.) NIWA treatments applied at rates of 6 Mg ha−1
along with untreated control plots. Results: Ash chemistry varied significantly among species and yellow birch ash generally had much higher metal concentrations compared with other species. Following ash application, significant increases in soil pH and calcium and magnesium concentrations were observed, however the level of response varied by treatment. Foliar concentrations of base cations in sugar maple seedlings significantly increased in ash treatments and there was no significant treatment effect on foliar metal concentrations or seedling growth. In roots and shoots, concentrations of several metals (manganese, aluminum, iron, boron, arsenic, cadmium, zinc, copper, lead, chromium, and nickel) increased after ash application, however response was most pronounced in yellow birch ash. Conclusions: These results suggest that application of NIWA can counteract the lasting effects of acid rain by increasing soil pH and base cation concentrations, as well as increasing sugar maple seedling foliar nutrient concentrations, but ashes from species with high metal contents may also increase metal availability to vegetation, at least in the short-term.
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