Planting native species after a major disturbance is a critical tool land managers use to stabilize soils, restore ecosystem processes, and prevent weed invasion. However, within the sagebrush steppe and other arid and semi-arid environments the percentage of sown seeds that produce an adult plant is remarkably low. Applying fertilizers at the time of planting may improve native plant establishment by increasing the ability of the seedlings to cope with environmental stresses. However, traditional fertilizer applications are often economically infeasible and may be counterproductive by encouraging weed invasion. Seed coating technology allows for the efficient application of fertilizers within the microsite of the seeded species. The objective of our research was to determine the optimal rate of fertilizer to apply to the seed to improve seedling emergence and plant growth. We applied a phosphorus (P) rich fertilizer (0.13 g P g-1) to bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata (Pursh) Á. Löve) seeds in a rotary coater at rates ranging from 0 to 50 g of fertilizer 100 g-1 seed. Three separate studies were conducted to test germination, biomass, relative growth rate, and tissue nutrient uptake. Study one showed decreasing root and shoot biomass and increasing time to 50% germination as fertilizer rates increased. Study two showed no difference in relative growth rate between the controls and fertilizer treatments. Study three showed no difference in root and shoot biomass or nutrient concentration between treatments except in the lowest fertilizer treatment (10 g fertilizer 100 g-1 seed), which was significantly lower in root and shoot biomass than all other treatments but had higher P tissue concentrations than all other treatments. Collectively these results showed no evidence that a P fertilizer coating could aid in bluebunch wheatgrass seedling establishment. Because bluebunch wheatgrass and similar late-seral plants have evolved with low nutrient requirements they may not be physiologically capable of handling increased nutrient supply, which may explain the results of our studies. Continued studies and fieldwork need to be performed to evaluate the potential of fertilizer seed coatings in restoration efforts.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





bluebunch wheatgrass, phosphorus (P), fertilizer, sagebrush steppe, seed coating, seed enhancement



Included in

Life Sciences Commons