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Tube Helps Establish Seedlings on Rangeland

By Kathryn Barry Stelljes
December 20, 2000

Small, plastic tubes designed by Agricultural Research Service rangeland scientist Terrance Booth could help reestablish native shrubs on rangeland denuded by fire.

“Booth” tubes are made of half-inch-diameter, scored, clear plastic. Each tube contains a soil mixture and a seedling that has been grown from seed in the greenhouse for two weeks. The tubes are pushed into the ground up to four inches deep, with up to three inches remaining above ground to serve as a mini-greenhouse and windbreak for the tiny seedlings.

Fueled by weeds, large rangeland fires have destroyed millions of acres of native habitat. Land managers revegetate these areas by broadcasting seeds or direct seeding methods, or by transplanting young plants from the greenhouse.

Wind, sandstorms and rodent predation take a large toll on seedlings. Survival rates range from less than 0.1 percent for broadcast sagebrush seeds to 70 or 80 percent with transplants.

Because the Booth tubes protect the seedlings, they can be planted in the field sooner than traditional transplants. The shorter greenhouse time could cut costs and make the practice more competitive with direct seeding costs. So far, the tubes have achieved about 70 percent seedling survival in experimental plantings. They have proven effective with sagebrush, winterfat, bitterbrush, four-wing saltbush, prairie flowers and even some garden vegetables.

The thin-walled tubes--about the thickness of two pieces of paper--break down at the soil surface after two or three years.

Bitterroot Restoration Incorporated in Corvallis, Mont., has established a cooperative research and development agreement to develop a commercial revegetation system using the tubes.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientific contact: D. Terrance Booth, ARS High Plains Grassland Research Station, Cheyenne, Wyo., phone (307) 772-2433, fax (307) 637-6124,