Effects of planting density on tree growth and induced soil suction

Charles Wang Wai Ng, J. J. Ni, A. K. Leung, C. Zhou, Z. J. Wang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)


Plant evapotranspiration is recognised to affect soil suction of slopes and landfill covers. Previous work has focused on evapotranspiration-induced suction by a single plant, with little attention paid to the effects of planting density. The aim of this study is to quantify any changes in tree growth and tree-induced suction during evapotranspiration and rainfall under different planting densities for non-mixed-species plantations. 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 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 evapotranspiration. Such tree–tree interaction led to: (a) a 19–35% reduction in the leaf area index; (b) a 17–36% decrease in root length; and (c) 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
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Laboratory tests
  • Partial saturation
  • Suction
  • Vegetation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)

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