Highlights: Norway spruce seedlings’ height growth recovered within four years after the cutting of canopy gaps; Growth was linearly related to tree height, being highest for tallest seedlings; Seedlings in the 20 m diameter gap and in the central and northern parts in the 15 m diameter gap showed the best growth; In gaps early height growth was 60% of that in peatland spruce plantations but 2–3 times higher than in uneven-aged cut forests.
Recent studies have shown the establishment of Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) to be successful in small canopy gaps cut in drained spruce mire stands in northern Finland. The aim of this study was to quantify seedling height growth in gaps and compare it to that observed in other canopy cuttings and plantations. We sampled spruce crop seedlings (maximum density ca. 3000 ha–1) in the spring of 2013 in a field experiment in which canopy gaps of 10, 15 and 20 m in diameter had been cut in winter 2004. The total seedling height in 2013 and the length of annual shoots over the past five years (2012–2008) were recorded in the survey. Seedling height varied from 20 cm to 2.7 m, with an average of 65 cm. The average annual height growth was 7.1 cm. A mixed linear model analysis was carried out to investigate seedling height growth variation. Seedling height was linearly and positively related to growth. Height growth started to increase in the fifth growing season after cutting. Seedling height growth in the 20 m gap was slightly better than in the smaller ones. In the 15 m gap, both the centrally located seedlings and those located at the northern edge grew best. In the 20 m gap, southerly located seedlings grew more slowly than seedlings in all other locations. The average seedling height growth in this study was about 60% of that in peatland plantations, but comparable to that in mineral soil gaps, and 2–3 times higher than in uneven-age cut stands.