Nebraska LTAP


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Attaining adequate vegetation cover along highways is important for NDOR to comply with EPA’s stormwater regulations. However, low plant cover is a common problem on shoulders (first 16 feet off the pavement) of many highways in Nebraska. The ultimate goal of this study is to identify cost-effective engineering solutions that assure adequate seed beds (i.e., soil conditions) for establishment of selected seeding mixtures. The objectives of this study are to (1) characterize the soil properties along roadsides where vegetation stands have not developed well, and (2) verify the effects of select soil property parameters on plant germination and establishment.

Sampling occurred at multiple locations along the highways near Beaver Crossing and Sargent, NE. At each location, soil samples were collected from a transect of multiple landscape positions, perpendicular to the highway. The soil physical properties measured included cone index, sorptivity, and aggregate stability, while the soil chemical properties measured included EC, pH, organic matters, Na, and Ca. Results show that the soils near the edge of the highway pavement were highly compacted. Also, the soils had higher pH, lower organic matter, and higher salt levels than optimal conditions. In the subsequent greenhouse studies, a factorial design was used to test three factors: soil compaction (i.e., 1.5, 1.7, and 1.9 g cm-3 soil compaction levels as well as sand as control), timing of salt stress (2 pulses of salt treatment applied pre-germination and post-germination as well as no-salt control), and plant species (buffalo grass, tall fescue, and western wheat grass). Results from the greenhouse studies showed that the three plant species exhibited different germination and early survival responses to the soil compaction and salt treatments. Tall fescue is better suited for site re-vegetation especially if salt is present in the soil prior to germination. Statistical analysis show that salt treatment had the most impact on species performance.

Finally the project recommends a few engineering remediation strategies for plant establishment. Creating microsites on compacted soil surfaces could potentially alleviate the soil compaction issue by creating local environmental conditions favorable to plant establishment at microsites. To remediate the high salt levels in soil, it is recommended to consider alternative de-icing agents and amend zeolites and organics in soil.