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Tree Planting

Planting For The Future

Since 1972 we have planted over 10,000,000 trees on some 18,000 acres. Our specialty is converting agricultural lands, 3 acres and larger, to woodlands. We provide tree planting plans, order trees, plant with tractor mounted tree planters, and provide band sprayed herbicide weed control during the first three growing seasons. As tree plantings mature we also provide thinning services.

Tree planting in our part of the United States is different than it is in many other areas. Our tree plantings are mostly on open agricultural land and are usually 5 to 80 acres in size. They are machine planted with band sprayed herbicide weed control. The most common spacing is 8-9 feet between tree rows and 8 feet between trees within the rows, but some plantings have closer spacing.

Most hardwood seedlings are 1-0 stock, but some oak are 2-0. Most plantings are a mixture of four to six different tree species. The most common upland hardwood species planted include black walnut, red oak, tulip, black cherry, and white oak. The most common lowland species planted are burr oak and silver maple.
Our markets are for hardwood veneer and saw logs; we have no pulp markets. White pine is often mixed with hardwoods as a site conditioner and trainer tree. Plantings often include a grid of access lanes and perimeters of wildlife shrubs. Soil productivity is usually good for hardwoods. Most fields have a mixture of soil types which were formed on glacial till or glacial outwash. Tree survival is usually 90 percent or better unless the deer damage has been heavy. Most trees are harvested at 50 to 80 years old.

Do the Right Thing

Nearly all landowners take advantage of the CRP program or other cost share programs to help pay for their tree plantings. The most common ownership objective is the desire to do the right thing and to enter into an enjoyable, rewarding project. Timber production, wildlife habitat, soil protection and recreation are often mentioned by landowners as objectives.

Spraying for Weeds

Over the last 30 years of planting trees in northern Indiana, foresters have learned a number of very important keys to making the above described plantings successful. First, we have learned the importance of band sprayed weed control the first three years. Its been my experience that perennial grasses are the worst competitors and the most important to control. These grasses are established and growing even before the planted hardwoods leaf out in the spring and compete all summer and fall. Grass roots occupy the soil area where a seedlings feeder roots need to be. Grasses also provide food and cover for rabbits and mice that can wipe out a young planting. Maybe the most important problem which perennial grasses present is the apparent allelopathic effect that some have on trees. Fescue, bromegrass and quack grass all seem to seriously stunt the growth of surrounding trees. Alfalfa, which is often mixed with grasses in pastures and hay fields, is also an important competitor to control. A common way to control these problems is to broadcast spray fields the fall before they are planted.

Annual broadleaf weeds are controlled in the 3- to 4 foot wide bands down the tree rows, but they are not as competitive as perennials and grasses. I think it is good to have unmowed annual broadleaf weeds between the tree and rows the first few years to help make the site more humid and cooler, and to reduce erosion and protect seedlings from the wind. We have found that complete weed control within the sprayed bands is not necessary and is seldom cost effective. We discourage mowing between tree rows in most cases, because it is a cost that does little good, can cause mechanical damage to trees and tends to convert a site from less competitive annual broad leaf weeds to more competitive perennial grasses.

Mixing Tree Species

A second lesson we have learned is the importance of mixing tree species within a planting; it is common to mix three to six species. We alternate two or three hardwood species within each row. If we are mixing four species, every other row will be the same. When mixing other numbers and ratios of species, we combine them so that they are evenly represented within a planting. If a planting has an area with a major change in soil types, we often change to a different mixture of species, and plant that area separately.

We have a number of reasons for planting tree mixtures. First is the Importance of matching tree species to soil types. Most fields change soils several times from one end to the other. Because there are so many variables involved, the best we can do as foresters is pick a group of tree species that arc most likely to do well on a given site. Then by mixing them evenly into a planting, we give ourselves the chance to pick crop trees after 10 to 20 years of growth when the best free species become obvious.

The two or three trees mixed within a given row should represent trees adapted to the opposite ends of the site conditions. For example, we might mix white oak with walnut in a row.

On the drier and poorer parts of a field the white oak may become our crop tree and on the better parts of a field we can manage for walnut. Because these trees will usually grow at different rates, a thinning may not be needed. I have searched out, found and inspected many old tree plantings. Many of those plantings were complete or partial failures because a forester thought he know the one best tree species to plant on a given site.

A second reason for mixing trees species in a planting is the uncertainty of future timber markets. A mixed planting allows a manager to be 10 to 20 years closer in time to his eventual markets when he begins selecting the species of his crop trees. Our native woodlands usually have over 10 species of crop trees, and our markets handle this well. Therefore, a planting with a mixture of species as crop trees should represent no problem in future markets and should lower the financial risk of this investment by adding diversity

Because species grow at different rates, some natural thinning occurs in mixed plantings. This allows us to plant at closer spacing between trees, which results in earlier crown closure. Early crown closure results in better formed trees and helps make the conversion from an old field environment to a woodland environment faster, which is important for good timber production. Other reasons for species mixtures include lowering the risk of losses from insects, diseases and wildlife. Mixed species plantings are considered more attractive to most landowners and they provide a more varied wildlife habitat.

Half Pine, Half Hardwood

Many of our plantings are a mixture of one half white pine and one half mixed hardwoods. The pines are planted in solid rows and every other row is a mixture of two different hardwoods. The pine rows serve as trainer trees and site conditioners for the hardwoods. The pines also help convert a planting from an old field environment to a woodland environment sooner than a pure hardwood planting. The pines provide good wind protection for the hardwoods, which seems to increase growth rates, and add to the appearance of a planting and to the wildlife habitat. On the poorest sites, they could also provide an additional choice as crop trees if the hardwoods do not do well,

In most plantings the hardwoods will overtake the pine in some 20 years. Because the pines are planted in solid rows, they could be mechanically thinned from the planting if a market is found for pole-sized pine.

If a planting is to be successful, a forester must work closely with the landowner. Landowners objectives must be met or they will likely lose interest in the plantings and not follow up with needed weed control and plantation management. If we expect landowners to follow up with future management practices, we need to be very careful to inform them before tree plantings what these future needs and costs will likely be. Landowners do not like surprises for which they have not budgeted any money

When planting hardwoods it is important to have good vigorous seedlings. Larger caliper seedlings have more stored food, get off to a better start and can sprout back stronger if eaten. A quick start is closely related to survival, because a seedling needs to outgrow weeds, mice, rabbits and deer.

Deer browsing on young trees has become a serious problem in tree plantings. Most plantings eventually outgrow this problem. Some plantings may need deer control measures to allow trees to grow past this deer browse. Deer seem to favor red oak and silver maple. For more on maintaining your tree planting, click here:

In the last three decades, we have adopted many valuable tree planting practices that have taken us from having only an occasional success to now having only an occasional failure. We have also learned that we have much more to discover about planting hardwoods.