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Proceedings of Past Forest Nursery Association Meetings:

Using Electrolyte Leakage Tests to Determine Lifting Windows and Detect Tissue Damage
Tinus, Richard W.
1999: Ames, IA
Seedling quality

Physiological testing is rapidly coming into use as a means to determine the condition of nursery stock and predict how it will respond to treatment or use. One such test, the electrolyte leakage test, can be used to measure cold hardiness and detect tissue damage. The principle of this test is that when cell membranes are damaged, electrolytes leak out into the water in which the tissue is immersed and can be measured by the conductivity of the solution. The test for damage is nonspecific in that anything that damages the membranes, such as cold, heat, disease, or mechanical injury, will cause electrolyte leakage. In the case of cold hardiness measurement, we know the damaging agent because we freeze the tissue.

Why measure cold hardiness? This is an important attribute in its own right, but it is also well correlated with a number of other important attributes such as bud dormancy, root growth potential, and ability to be lifted and successfully stored overwinter.

We have used the measurement of cold hardiness to determine when conifer seedlings are ready to be fall lifted, so that they will store well overwinter and survive well when outplanted; these results have been reported at previous nursery meetings. Now, starting with 2 species of juniper, we have created a computer program in which you enter the current date, results of a cold hardiness measurement made in the early fall, and the threshold of cold hardiness needed for high outplanting survival. The program will compute the number of days before you can begin lifting.
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