Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Christopher R. Keyes

Commitee Members

Andrew J. Larson, R. Kasten Dumroese


biochar, soilless media nursery propagation, Festuca, Clarkia, Pinus and Gaillardia


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Forest Management | Horticulture


A study was conducted to better inform nursery practitioners of the potential benefits of biochar application in common nursery media for native plant propagation. Biochar – a carbon-rich, recalcitrant charred organic co-product of the bioenergy pyrolysis process – has emerged as a promising potential replacement for various components of soilless media, namely peat, perlite, and vermiculite, in nursery seedling propagation. A strong conceptual basis exists for biochar as a nursery media amendment, but empirical data on biochar-based plant propagation is limited. This greenhouse study examined the effects of biochar displacement of standard soilless nursery media at rates of 0%, 15%, 30%, and 45% (percent volume composition) on propagation of four northern Rocky Mountain native plant species: deerhorn clarkia (Clarkia pulchella Pursh.), common blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata Pursh.), ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Doug.), and Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis Elmer). Biochar at any level generally resulted in few differences in plant growth or media chemistry. Seedling biomass production with biochar treatment was either equivalent to the standard media (control), or in the case of Festuca, was slightly less. All plant growth parameters for Festuca, except longest leaf length, resulted in significantly lower values for all the biochar treatment levels. Final seedling height in the Pinus 30% treatment group had significantly taller seedlings, but no effect on mean total biomass. For all the species, media chemistry (pH and EC) showed little variation, and no clear trends resulting from biochar treatments emerged. Significant differences were found indicating the Pinus and Gaillardia un-amended media had higher mean pH than the other biochar treatments, but the overall range of pH values was small, and did not result in any apparent negative effects on plant growth. Although few benefits of biochar incorporation were identified, this research shows that biochar can reduce watering frequency and suitably displace up to 45% standard peat, perlite, and vermiculite media without any decrease in plant biomass growth for three of the study’s four species.



© Copyright 2015 Clarice P. Matt