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Everything you wanted to know about planting

The two big events in the life of a forest are the day you harvest your timber and get a check and the day you replant and re-invest in another generation of trees. In Louisiana, that reforestation decision — whether it is pine or hardwoods — takes time and planning.

Robert Tassin, consulting forester with Baker Land & Timber in Alexandria, outlines the keys to a successful planting:

  • Good site preparation.

  • A good management plan.

  • Good genetics in your seedlings.

  • A good planting crew with good supervision.

Fortunately Louisiana also has a good cost-share program called the Forest Productivity Program or FPP. Landowners can apply April 1 of each year to be eligible for 50-percent cost share on planting and even on site preparation, chemical release or prescribed burns. These funds come from a portion of the severance taxes paid to the state each year by those harvesting their timber.

Tassin said the first decision when a landowner calls with a replanting job is to check out the location, ascertain if it is a pine or a hardwood planting and if there is a government program that can help. In addition to FPP there are also programs through the Natural Resources Conservation Program (NRCS).

“Right now we are writing FPP applications for next year,” he said.

The majority of plantings would be bare root loblolly or other varieties like slash pine. A number of programs now promote containerized longleaf plantings and mitigation banking also gives incentives to hardwood planting. (We will leave mitigation banking for a future article.)

New plantings are done during colder months when the trees are dormant. Crews can begin planting containerized seedlings in late October and bareroot seedling work might begin around December 15 depending on the weather, said Tassin. Steve Meeks with Meeks Farm and Nursery said with containerized seedlings you can plant early in the fall if adequate moisture is present.

“September is not out of the question with container seedlings,” he said. But there is usually work to be done before seedlings get into the ground.

“Most (tracts) need to be chemically sprayed, burned and planted and some need to be mechanically prepared (usually with bulldozers) and planted,” said Tassin. “The easier you make it for the planter to see what he’s doing, the better the job you are going to get.”

The forest floor, even after a clearcut, has a duff layer of partly decayed organic matter. That is one more hindrance for the planter to get the seedling in the true mineral layer of the soil. Burning or mechanical clearing helps that process.

A forester working with a reforestation project can provide guidance on drawing up the management plan for reforestation, maps of the tract, the prescription for the chemical application, and supply “shape” files for aerial applicators to use which help ensure the chemical spray is applied exactly where it is needed.

For example, a site prep application might be scheduled sometime from August through October followed by a burn in November or December with planting in January or February.

Established planting crews use mainly migrant labor under the H2B labor rules that allow a set number of seasonal workers to come into the country for certain types of work like tree planting.

Nurseries will “lift” the seedlings for delivery just in time for the work to begin.

“We will keep them in a refrigerated trailer, only remove them as needed, and will keep them tarped and in the shade while on site,” Tassin said. “If the refrigerated trailer is close by the planting site we will only remove enough for a half day to keep them as cool as possible.”

The forester will examine the trees and supervise the planting to make sure the crew is following the management plan.

Trees per acre can vary, but those planted under FPP or an NRSC plan will have a minimum number required per acre. For example, FPP calls for a minimum of 544 trees per acre. The forester will vary the number depending on the ground and tree genetics. With better genetics fewer trees might be used.

“I personally like 12 feet between rows or about 605 trees per acre,” said Tassin.

With better trees means you might not plant as many.

One trend is a flex stand where four rows would be planted in high genetic sourced seedlings with the fifth row set in lower genetics. This assumes the fifth row will be thinned for pulpwood not requiring the higher standards.

There are several nurseries that provide seedlings to Louisiana landowners. We asked their personnel to help with some nuggets of advice useful to landowners:

  • “If the main thing you want in your seedlings (particularly loblolly) is good genetics then order in January.” Jeff Cravey, IFCO.

  • “When you contact a nursery for seedlings, ask about genetics first and price last. This lets the nursery operator know that you are serious about the kind of seedlings you intend to purchase. Insist on genetic information such as gain, disease resistance, seed origin, etc.” — Steve Meeks, Meeks Nursery

  • “Don’t skimp on heavy site prep for longleaf. Use the best-approved chemicals to prepare your land to receive the seedlings. Competition, such as grass and woody plants must be controlled for the first few years for longleaf to thrive and move out of the grass stage.” — Bennett Whitfield, Whitfield Farms and Nursery

  • “You cannot plant hardwoods on a site that has had imazapyr applied. If you are going to plant hardwoods, you would need to use glyphosate in combination with sulfometuron methyl and metsulfuron methyl to control and prevent the development of competing vegetation for the trees to be planted.” — Keith Byrd, ArborGen

  • “Root growth potential (RGP) normally peaks somewhere between mid-December to mid-January. In my estimation, that’s the best time to plant if you can get a planter. It is always better to plant earlier than later. March/April planting is a roll of the dice. Seedlings begin to grow before they really get a root system going. If you go through a dry spell then things get ugly.” — Douglas Shelburne, Weyerhaeuser Seedlings

  • “The first question I always ask landowners is ‘What do you desire at the harvest of your trees?’ At that point I begin to ask a landowner about the site they want to plant. ... ‘What type of soil is in the planting site — sand, silt or clay? What is the soil pH? What nutrients do you have in the soil?’ These items are important to begin to address site preparation activities.” — Keith Byrd, ArborGen

  • “Have a written contract with your nursery and tree planter/site prep provider. Have specific details about what your expect and exactly what the vendors should provide.” — Steve Meeks, Meeks Nursery

  • “Plant deep! You can almost not plant loblolly too deep, as long as you don’t J-root the tap. Put the root collar at a minimum of 1 inch underground and make sure you have a good tight seal.” — Douglas Shelburne, Weyerhaeuser Seedlings

  • “Your job is not finished once seedlings are planted. Continue to control grass by mowing between rows and by following practices recommended by your state forester. Look out for and remove damaged trees that would invite pest and disease into your orchard.” — Bennett Whitfield, Whitfield Farms and Nursery

  • “Know your market and plant your market. For pulpwood, you can go with a higher number of seedlings per acre. For sawtimber, consider high genetics and then adjust spacing.” — Jeff Cravey, IFCO

  • “With the warm winters we are now having, don’t assume you can store seedlings for extended periods. Warm weather can affect dormancy and therefore storability. Get fresh trees and get them in the ground.” — Douglas Shelburne, Weyerhaeuser Seedlings

  • “Plant longleaf with the proper tools. Seedlings must be perpendicular and not slanted in the ground and at the right depth. Be sure your hand planting crews are skilled at planting your variety of seedlings.” — Bennett Whitfield, Whitfield Farms and Nursery

  • “Particularly with herbicides, scheduled treatments can have timing impacts on when trees can be planted in a manner that will allow them to be most successful. PH can eliminate herbicides such as sulfometuron methyl if the soil pH is above 6.8.” — Keith Byrd, ArborGen

  • “For large tracts, provide on-site seedling storage to keep seedlings as fresh as possible.” — Steve Meeks, Meeks Nursery

  • “Machine planting will always outperform hand planting with respect to survival. If you have the option, pay the extra cost. You’ll be glad you did.” — Douglas Shelburne, Weyerhaeuser Seedlings.

The old saying that the best time to plant a tree is yesterday makes a great point about the importance of reforestation, but all the experts warn that only with proper planning can your forest really thrive.

(Janet Tompkins is the retired editor of Forests & People magazine.)

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