From the Forest, For the Forest since 1995

Tree Planting 101

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In December ’99, we planted our first 2,000 Redwood trees. It seemed straightforward and we were excited to finally reach this phase in the restoration work. After years of hard labor thinning the overgrown young forest of excessive hardwoods and suppressed dying trees, we looked forward to the forest slowly becoming mostly Redwoods again. The seedlings were from the state nursery from stock collected years earlier in our “seed zone”.

Before planting, we consulted several foresters about the best way to do this. The consensus was to plant at least 200 per acre when the ground was saturated with moisture. We were told to use “plastic guards” so the deer wouldn’t eat the seedlings and to not plant near existing trees. Considering a young stand of trees already existed, 200 per acre seemed excessive. We were told the best ones could then be retained and the rest thinned in future years….

6,000 trees were planted over 3 winters on 30 acres thru Dec ’01. But, in the woods, you can’t water your trees. So, by December of 2002, while preparing to plant the next year’s 2,000, we counted only 310 seedlings from the prior 3 years still alive! Some had grown a bit, most were barely alive. Our foresters pointed to the long dry summers and said it often took years for tiny seedlings to get established and begin to grow robustly. After 3 years, we realized the experts didn’t really have answers for our somewhat harsh, slightly below average quality site forestlands. We were on our own to figure out how to get the trees to live and grow. We decided to take drastic steps.

First, we studied which seedlings lived and the few that were growing. The seedlings in heavily shaded areas (next to a downed logged or near watercourses) did the best. Seedlings in exposed or windy areas died or were about to die. Seedlings planted with the ability to catch water did better than those without some obstacle that held water.

Instead of sending another 2,000 seedlings to an almost certain early death, planting was cancelled in Dec ’02. Instead, the seedlings were transplanted into 2, 3 and 5 gallon pots and placed in a mostly shaded Redwood grove. Over the next year, they were babied with regular watering and stakes to keep them growing straight and strong. Only seedlings at least 18 inches tall and with a healthy root ball (coming out the bottom of the pots…) would be planted from now on.

In Dec 2003, 1,200 seedlings at least 18 inches tall were planted in a completely new way. Using an auger bit attached to a chain saw, holes 2 feet deep and about 9 inches wide were dug. Then about 6 inches of loose soil was thrown back into the hole before planting. After filling the air pockets and tamping down moderately, about 4 inches of duff (leaves, small branches, cones, from the surrounding forest ground) was added to the top of the hole to add insulation from the wind and sun. The trees were planted deep enough so the top of the 4 inches of duff still remained at least a couple inches below the contour of the ground.

Planting this way accomplished 4 things:

  1. The loosened soil under the tree made it easier for the roots to grow into the forest soil.
  2. The duff insulated the roots to help retain moisture thru the hot dry summer and fall.
  3. The larger seedlings didn’t need plastic tree protectors because deer could no longer pull the trees out of the ground if they nibbled off the tip.
  4. Planting deep and below the contour of the land left pockets to collect extra rainwater and the roots were kept cooler year round at the added depth.

A few months later, the newly planted seedlings began sprouting new growth. Five years later, over 7,500 of the larger seedlings have been planted this way. Over 85% have lived. While still relatively small, most grow an average of 6 to 8 inches per year at this young age without being watered or cared for in any way. Thousands of young Redwoods averaging 3 ft in height are now slowly restablishing the ancient tree’s dominance in our Annapolis forestlands.

In March of 2008, a couple researchers from National Geographic’s magazine visited. The magazine is preparing its first expose on the Redwood forest since 1964 to be published in 2009. After a 3 day visit, Michael Faye, the lead researcher mentioned no one in the Redwoods was planting trees like we were. He had us plant one tree for the magazine to photograph the process explained above. It was a bit past the best time to plant—so we watered the hole extensively before and after. Hopefully the tree planting notes and photos will make it into the article.

Yes, it’s simple. But, it’s also expensive hard work to plant trees like this. Old-Growth Again plants an average of 40 Redwoods per acre. Yet, many more live than at the 200 per acre rate we initially practiced and they grow much faster. Some seedlings are now over 6 ft tall, while the tiny ones planted 9 years ago are almost all dead or less than 12 inches tall. If planting in average to below average site forestlands, it really takes the extra steps mentioned above to restock the forest with Redwood trees again.

In 2008, OGA will spend $80,000 planting and caring for the nursery. Its a large investment for our small company. If you’d like to get involved, take advantage of one of our upcoming sales for our patio furniture line or come down in December and get down and dirty. Just email us and we’ll let you know when we will be planting. As soon as we get a couple good rain sets, we can begin. Most planting is done between mid-December to late January.

If you’d like to learn more about our forestry practices, please visit our forest restoration page.

As always, we welcome your comments and questions.

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