Effects of planting density on tree growth and induced soil suction

C. W. W. Ng, J. J. Ni (Lead / Corresponding author), A. K. Leung, C. Zhou, Z. J. Wang

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Plant evapotranspiration (ET) is recognised to affect the soil suction of slopes and landfill covers. Previous work has focused on ET-induced suction by a single plant, with little attention paid to the effects of planting density. This study aims to quantify any changes in tree growth and tree-induced suction during ET and rainfall under different planting densities. A tree species, Schefflera heptaphylla, which is commonly found in Asia, was planted in silty sand at spacings of 60, 120 and 180 mm representing three different planting densities. For each case, three replicates were tested to consider any effects of tree variability. In total, the responses of suction for 297 seedlings subjected to drying and a rainfall event with a 10-year return period were measured. The test results show that reducing the tree spacing from 180 to 60 mm induced greater tree-tree competition for water, as indicated by a 364% increase in peak suction upon ET. Such tree-tree interaction led to (i) a 19-35% reduction in the leaf area index; (ii) a 17-36% decrease in root length; and (iii) an obvious decay of roots. Upon the rainfall event, the infiltration rate for vegetated soil with trees planted at a spacing of 60 mm was up to 247% higher than those for soil with a wider tree spacing, where mainly fresh roots were found. Although most suction within the root zone (i.e., top 100 mm) was lost due to increased infiltration at 60 mm spacing, suctions in deeper depths below root zone were largely preserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)711-724
Number of pages14
Issue number9
Early online date13 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2016


  • Planting density
  • Suction
  • Soil water retention
  • Rainfall infiltration


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