January 2021 – 2nd Edition

Selecting Rust Resistant Seedlings for a Successful Plantation

Article by Patrick Cumbie, PhD

Selecting fusiform rust resistant loblolly and slash pine seedlings is critical for many landowners.  If your stand is in a moderate to high hazard area for fusiform rust disease, it is very important to have a family with good rust resistance.  Rust resistance, combined with growth and stem form are evaluated for selecting commercial families.  Your ArborGen Reforestation Advisor can help ensure that you receive seedlings with the appropriate level of rust resistance for your specific location.

Rust resistance is typically reported using a score called an R50.  This score is scaled against an unimproved checklot which is set at 50%.  If a family has an R50 of 20%, it is expected to have 20% incidence if the unimproved family were at 50% infection on the same site.  In progeny tests, we can see families range from 0 to 100% infection.  Most trials have an average rust incidence level ranging from 20% to 50% which gives us a very good population to evaluate and select superior families.  The R50 score is very helpful to rank families and understand the rust incidence level compared to unimproved seedlings as well as other families a landowner may purchase.

The R50 score is not a guarantee of performance, but it is based on actual data from a set of experiments in the field.  It is very useful for landowners to select resistant seedlings, but it is not a guarantee of what rust levels will be in your plantation.  For example, a highly resistant MCP family may have an R50 of 5%.  The table below shows what could happen on a site depending on the rust hazard compared to less resistant OP families and unimproved seedlings.

Fusiform Rust Chart Arborgen Tree Seedlings Treelines January 2021 2Nd EditionIf a plantation is in a lower hazard area where the hazard may be below 25%, the landowner may not need the highest rust-resistance available to achieve success.  If the site is in a high hazard area where unimproved seedlings may have greater than a 50% hazard, then superior rust resistance is needed.  Fusiform rust hazard maps can tell us, in general, if you are located in a higher hazard area, but they do not provide a prediction for your individual plantation.  Local weather patterns and the presence of oak species (the alternate host of the fungus) can have a significant impact on the fusiform rust incidence in your plantation. 

If you are located in a higher hazard area, selecting the most rust-resistant seedlings is your best defense. MCP families offer superior rust resistance along with growth and stem form performance. MCP families are screened for rust resistance in the field as well as in greenhouse trials. Two highly resistant parents can be crossed to capture rust resistance that is superior to OP families.  OP families offer a range of resistance as well, so paying attention to the R50 score and your rust hazard is essential to put your best foot forward!

To ensure you get seedlings with the proper level of rust resistance for your specific site, 

Randolph, K. C., E. B. Cowling and D. A. Starkey, 2015. Long-Term Changes in Fusiform Rust Incidence in the Southeastern United States. Journal of Forestry 113: 381-392. (link)

Fusiform Rust Hazard Map A Arborgen Tree Seedlings Treelines January 2021 2Nd Edition
Fusiform Rust Hazard Map B Arborgen Tree Seedlings Treelines January 2021 2Nd Edition

Figure 6. Estimated fusiform rust hazard for loblolly pine based on rust incedence assessments on FIA plots from the 2010s (A) and on the average of assessments from the 1990s and 2010s (B).

Figure 1.  Hazard maps from Randolph et al (2015).

Fusiform Rust Picture1 Arborgen Tree Seedlings Treelines January 2021 2Nd Edition

Severe fusiform rust incidence in loblolly pine.

Fusiform Rust Picture2 Arborgen Tree Seedlings Treelines January 2021 2Nd Edition

A fusiform rust stem gall on a progeny test seedlings.  In the spring, orange-colored aeciospores cover the gall and will infect oak leaves to continue the life cycle of the fungus.

Ppatrick Cumbie Image

Dr. Patrick Cumbie is manager of Pine development for ArborGen Inc.  Patrick has been involved in forest tree breeding research and development for more than 16 years. His career has largely focused on coordinating and implementing accelerated breeding programs of loblolly Pine. Before joining ArborGen Inc. in 2010, Patrick worked in both industry and university-based research programs.  He has received his BS in Forest Management, MS in Forestry and PhD in Forestry at North Carolina State University.

Planting for Better Survival

Shallow planting is a major cause of seedling mortality. Bareroot seedlings should be planted at least 2 inches above the root collar, i.e., 2 inches deeper than they were grown in the nursery. For container Loblolly and/or Slash Pine, our recommendation is to plant the root ball at or slightly below ground level to get the roots down to moist soil and for stability. The recommended planting depth for container Longleaf in open agriculture fields, scalped fields and wet sites is where the root ball is slightly above ground level to make sure the bud does not get covered. Cut over hand planted areas should have the root ball at ground level or slightly above.

It is virtually impossible to plant a bareroot seedling too deep, unless the bud is covered with soil. Be sure to properly align the seedling in the hole as close to vertical as possible. An angle of 20 degrees or less is preferred. The planting hole must be closed both at the top and the bottom to ensure the optimal contact of the soil and roots. You can check the planting by pulling on the top of the seedling. It should feel tight in the soil. When seedlings are planted deeply, “J” and “L” rooted seedlings are not a problem. Never allow root pruning.

Here Dr. Paul Jeffreys shows you what a well-planted seedling looks like – the right way.

Maximize your seedling survival by avoiding these common planting mistakes.

Too Shallow Seedling

Too Shallow

Root collar and roots exposed, drying out roots.

Planted A Seed Too Deep

Too Deep

Pine bud within 2" of ground line.


"J" or "U" Roots

Roots form "J" or "U" shape resulting in poor or weak root development.

Planted Too Loose

Too Loose

A firm pull on one needle cluster moves plant.

Excessive Pruning Seedling

Excessive Tap Root Pruning

Pine seedling roots should not be pruned shorter than 5". Hardwood seedling roots should not be pruned shorter than 6".

Leggy Seedlings

Not Erect

The tap root should not be planted at more than 30˚ from perpendicular.

Leggy Seedlings

"L" or Drag Root

Seedling pulled along in trench by planter.

Need a trusted partner to guide the way?
Get in touch with a Reforestation Advisor to explore your options!
Austin Heine

Austin Heine

North Carolina and Virginia


Jason Cromer

Jason Cromer

Florida, Georgia


Greg Hay

Greg Hay

Arkansas, Northern Louisiana, and Oklahoma


Shannon Stewart

Shannon Stewart

Eastern Texas, Southern Louisiana


Paul Jeffreys, Ph.d.

Paul Jeffreys, Ph.D.

Alabama & Mississippi

Manager Special Projects & Sustainability

Kylie Burdette

Kylie Burdette

U.S. Sales Manager

Reforestation Advisor
South Carolina

Jason Watson

Jason Watson

Director, U.S. Sales