You are here

Growing native plants with biochar

January, 2010 to December, 2020

Ponderosa pine seedlings grown in nursery-substrate amended with increasing amounts of biochar (right to left).
Ponderosa pine seedlings grown in nursery-substrate amended with increasing amounts of biochar (right to left).

Pyrolysis, the conversion of woody biomass to bioenergy, can be more economically viable if the byproduct, biochar, can have value added. This project examines the use of biochar as a seed coating and as an amendment to the substrates used in nurseries to produce native plants for restoration. The research explores the physical and chemical properties of biochar-amendment, especially water movement and availability, and subsequent growth of seedlings.


Scientists are evaluating two ways to use biochar to improve growth of native plants: coating seeds with biochar and adding biochar to the substrate used to grow seedlings in nurseries.

  • Seeds coated with biochar were measured for germination across a gradient of available moisture conditions and temperatures. If biochar improves germination of native plant seeds, fewer seeds would be required per project, thus increasing seed availability and decreasing establishment costs.
  • If biochar is a suitable substrate for nursery use, it would be a lower-cost amendment compared to traditional types currently used in nurseries, and would allow opportunity to sequester carbon on the restoration site during the ordinary outplanting of seedlings.

This work supports the use of renewable energy and restoration of degraded ecosystems.


Key Findings

Scientists have discovered that:

  • Coating grass and forbs seeds with various amounts of biochar provided little improvement of germination across a wide gradient of moisture availability and temperatures.
  • Growing high quality plants is possible when peat moss and inorganic amendments are replaced with biochar during nursery production of native plants (trees, shrubs, and wildflowers).
  • Adding biochar reduces the amount of irrigation that must be used to grow plants.



Dumroese, Kasten ; Pinto, Jeremiah R. ; Heiskanen, Juha ; Tervahauta, Arja ; McBurney, Katherine G. ; Page-Dumroese, Deborah S. ; Englund, Karl , 2018
Matt, Clarice P. ; Keyes, Christopher R. ; Dumroese, Kasten , 2018
Williams, Mary I. ; Dumroese, Kasten ; Page-Dumroese, Deborah S. ; Hardegree, Stuart P. , 2016
Dumroese, Kasten ; Heiskanen, Juha ; Englund, Karl ; Tervahauta, Arja , 2011


Currently scientists are evaluating the subsequent field survival and growth of pine seedlings grown with biochar during the nursery phase.

YouTube video on new techniques to create and spread biochar

Conference presentations

Dumroese RK, Pinto JR. 2018. Growing container southern pines in a biochar-amended substrate. Combined Meeting of the Southern Forest Nursery Association and Northeast Forest and Conservation Nursery Association. Pensacola, FL.

Dumroese RK. 2018. Outplanting seedlings grown with biochar to restore forests and sequester carbon. Society for Ecological Restoration―Europe. Reykjavik, Iceland.

Matt CP, Keyes CR, Dumroese RK, Larson AJ. 2015. An assessment of biochar-amended soilless media for the nursery propagation of Rocky Mountain native plants. Intermountain Container Seedling Growers’ Association. Moscow, ID.

Matt CP, Keyes CR, Dumroese RK, Larson AJ. 2015. Advances in using biochar as a media amendment. National Meeting of the Intertribal Nursery Council. Pendleton, OR.

Heiskanen J, Tammeorg P, Dumroese K. 2013. Hiedan ja biohiilen kasvualustaseos ei osoittanut haitallisia vaikutuksia kuusentaimille kasvukammiokokeessa (Biochar amended silty soil showed no detrimental effects on Norway spruce seedlings in a growth chamber bioassay). Pro Terra No. 61. Finnish Soil Science Society and University of Helsinki. Helsinki, Finland.

Dumroese RK, Pinto JR, Heiskanen J, Englund K. 2012. Potential for using biochar in container media used to grow native plants. 2nd Annual World Congress of Bioenergy. Xi’an, China. Beijing Forestry University.

Dumroese RK, Pinto JR, Heiskanen J, Englund K. 2010 and 2011. Potential for using biochar in container media used to grow native plants. Fifth Western Native Plant Conference. Western Forestry and Conservation Association. Portland, OR (2010) and Western Forest and Conservation Nursery Association, Denver, CO. 2011.

Related Science Spotlights

Using biochar to improve soil quality on decommissioned roads

Project Contact: 

Principal Investigators:
Katherine McBurney - formerly of University of Idaho
Mary I Williams - formerly of Michigan Technological University
Stuart P Hardegree - USDA Agricultural Research Service
Juha Heiskanen - LUKE-Natural Resources Institute Finland
Arja Tervahauta - LUKE-Natural Resources Institute Finland
Karl Englund - Washington State University
Christopher Keyes - University of Montana
Clarice Matt - formerly of University of Montana

Funding Contributors:
National Center for Reforestation Nurseries and Genetics Resources
Rocky Mountain Research Station
Agricultural Research Services
Washington State University
Michigan Technological University
LUKE-Natural Resources Institute Finland
University of Montana