Semi-arid native plant communities worldwide are often disturbed either intentionally or incidentally by human activity. In order to restore ecological function after human activities cease, native plant communities need to be restored. Woody plants are important to ecological function for many reasons including reducing erosion and providing food and shelter for wildlife. Unfortunately, woody plant establishment in these areas has proven to be challenging. Direct seeding efforts can be hindered by poor germination and low seedling emergence. To overcome this, seedling transplants are often used in harsh sites. However, transplanted woody seedlings often experience high mortality during the first year, predominantly as a result of stress during the summer. The Waterboxx® device is a tool that collects precipitation and condensates into a polypropylene reservoir, slowly releasing the water into the soil next to the seedling. Low soil fertility can also limit seedling establishment. In two studies, we evaluated the use of Waterboxx® devices with one wick or two wicks, and/or fertilizer as tools for establishing seedlings on a reclaimed waste rock pile. We also looked at the effects of either placing the Waterboxx® on the soil surface or burying the Waterboxx® partway into the ground. The first study focused on different species in the Waterboxx®. Species planted in the first study were Atriplex canescens, Cercocarpus ledifolius, Pinus edulis, Purshia tridentata and Rhus glabra. The second study focused on number of wicks, addition of fertilizer, and method of Waterboxx® instillation. This study was conducted with only one species: C. ledifolius. In both studies, the Waterboxx® device improved survival and vigor. In the second study, fertilizer was detrimental to seedling survival, and Waterboxx® devices installed on top of the soil had no difference in survival or vigor compared to the control, but partially buried devices were better than the control and Waterboxx® devices with two wicks had the best C. ledifolius seedling survival. Based on the results obtained, Waterboxx® devices were a viable method for most of these species in improving their establishment on mine land overburden sites in the semi-arid mountain west and additional research is merited for other areas of the world.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





restoration, Waterboxx ®, transplant, woody plant establishment, water management



Included in

Life Sciences Commons