Artificial regeneration of oak has been generally unsuccessful in maintaining the oak component in productive upland forests of eastern North America. We tested visual grading effects on quality-grown northern red oak (Quercus rubra
) seedlings planted in two submesic stands on the Cumberland Plateau escarpment of Tennessee, USA. Seedlings were grown for one year using advanced fertilization and irrigation protocols to increase overall size of seedlings, but large variability in size was still evident. Seedlings were divided into two grades prior to planting. The “standard” grade represented seedlings that had undergone a light culling, and the “premium” grade represented the highest quality seedlings. Seven years after planting in a midstory-removal stand, 50 percent of trees survived, growth was negligible, and seedling grade had no effect on survival and yearly growth. In a shelterwood harvest stand, premium grade seedlings had taller height and larger basal diameter (BD) (241 cm and 29.5 mm, respectively) compared to standard seedlings (201 cm and 25.9 mm, respectively), and a two-year height growth advantage was achieved by planting premium grade compared to standard grade seedlings. Competitive ability and planting shock were similar between grades, and we postulate that an exceptional drought and large size variability in both grades equalized response. While our findings should be confirmed through additional testing, they suggest currently accepted seedling quality standards for northern red oak should be refined to improve regeneration efforts on productive sites in the eastern United States.
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