Phytophthora root rot of Fraser fir, caused by several Phytophthora spp., is a severe problem in Christmas tree production. Since fungicides are not economically viable for disease management in field plantings and host resistance is not available, cultural control methods were investigated. Mulches, dairy compost, and soil pH adjustment were tested at five field sites in North Carolina. Treatments included wood chips, wood chips plus compost, or pine bark as raised beds, and compost or sulfur tilled into soil. Soil and mulch microbial populations were characterized by dilution plating and calculation of a log series diversity index, and by enzyme analyses at 5, 12, 17, and 24 months after planting. Bacterial and fungal counts, microbial activity, and cellulase activity were higher in mulch than in soil at all sites and times (P < 0.01), and generally did not differ among mulch types or among soils. Treatments significantly affected disease ratings and tree survival at three of five sites, with one or more mulch treatments yielding lower disease ratings and greater survival than controls. Tree mortality at each time point varied significantly with cellulase activity in the upper root zone (P = 0.005). Other biological variables did not show significant relationships with disease ratings or mortality.
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