In plantation forests, competition from unwanted vegetation may reduce survival and negatively impact tree growth. The goal of this study was to examine the influence of vegetation management treatments on plant water relations and wood properties. Control trees (no treatment) were compared to trees subjected to post-planting competing vegetation control for five consecutive years after planting. Four conifer species (Douglas-fir, western hemlock, western redcedar, and grand fir) were studied on two different sites in western Oregon, USA. Carbon isotope (13
C) analysis was used to study intrinsic water use efficiency (iWUE) and X-ray densitometry was used to measure specific gravity, ring width, and latewood percent. We found a significant interaction between vegetation management treatment and wood ring (growing season) in iWUE for Douglas-fir. There was little effect of vegetation management treatment on ring specific gravity for all species. Only western redcedar growing at a central Coast Range site showed increased ring specific gravity under sustained competing vegetation control. When growing under conditions of sustained control of competing vegetation, western redcedar at a central Coast Range site had a significant increase in earlywood specific gravity, while Douglas-fir at a Cascade Foothills site had a significant decrease in latewood specific gravity. Western redcedar and grand fir had a significant interaction-effect on its latewood percentage, with treatment trees having a higher latewood percentage than control trees after ring 8. Further, Douglas-fir and western hemlock had a significant increase in ring, earlywood, and latewood area with treatment, and grand fir had a significant interaction-effect of treatment × ring for ring, earlywood, and latewood area. This study indicates that, for conifer trees growing under sustained vegetation control, growth gains could be achieved without compromising wood properties. However, if harvested at a target diameter, these trees will have a larger proportion of low quality corewood compared to trees from conventionally managed stands.
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