Limber pine Pinus flexilis James populations in the southern Rocky Mountains are threatened by the combined impacts of mountain pine beetles and white pine blister rust. To develop restoration planting methods, six P. flexilis seedling planting trial sites were installed along a geographic gradient from southern Wyoming to southern Colorado. Experimental treatments included: high or low overstory canopy density from existing trees, presence/absence of a nurse object, and presence/absence of hydrogel. Of the P. flexilis seedlings planted, 72% were alive after four growing seasons. There were interactions between nurse object, seedling height at planting, and percent canopy cover that affected the number of healthy seedlings. Denser canopy cover was positively correlated with healthier planted seedlings and hydrogels had no effect. Nurse objects promoted healthier seedlings, particularly when canopy cover was low (0–50% cover), and the specific orientation to the nurse object affected seedling health under all levels of canopy cover. In conclusion, for best growth and survival in the first four years after planting, P. flexilis seedlings should be planted under an overstory canopy and on the north or west side of a nurse object, particularly if the canopy cover is low or absent.
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