We cut timber on our property nearly two years ago. Unfortunately, the weather was too dry to plant last fall/winter. It's a good thing we didn't because I doubt many trees would have made it through this summer. But we had the land prepped for planting last year and we have to do some more work now so that hopefully we can plant this fall. Not enough moisture in the ground yet.
Prep, in this case, means having the cut over area sprayed with a long lasting hardwood and grass herbicide. After timber is cut all those old tree stumps want to sprout and any dormant seeds decide to wake up. We create a void, nature fills it. This spray is necessary so that the pine trees will not have competition for water or light as they struggle to get going. It's not a process that I'm particularly fond of, but if you want a good stand of pine trees some chemicals are going to have to get involved. Spray now and spray in five or six years. After that the pine trees are well established and their crowns are above the fray.
Planting pine trees is a good example of thinking long term. There will not be significant income from a pine plantation for about fifteen years. There are some small cuttings before then, but not much. We are using every modern means available to us to speed up the process. Our plan is to plant containerized trees this fall at a 10 ft by 12 ft spacing. This is a much wider spacing than has been traditionally recommended, but research
by Eric Taylor at Texas A&M has shown that trees planted in this manner mature faster. They simply have less side to side competition and thus grow thicker quicker than trees planted close together. Planting in the fall is also not traditionally recommended. Most people plant in January or February. However, again, research has shown that fall planted trees grow faster than winter planted trees. They have more time to develop their root system before the harsh days of summer arrive. Less stress equals faster growth.
But if you are going to plant at such a wide spacing and at a warmer time of year you had better be sure that your trees are going to live. Less trees planted means less eggs in your one basket. Break a few eggs and their may be no omelette! Which leads us to containerized seedlings. These are pine seedlings that are grow in little pots instead of in a nursery bed and pulled out as bare root for planting. When the containerized trees are planted there is less disturbance and the roots are less likely to dry out. Again, less stress equals faster growth and better survivability.
We might even fertilize our pine trees at some point. Fertilizer does tend to make things grow, despite the fact that this is virtually unheard of in Southern pine plantations. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Tell me what the price of oil in China will be and I'll tell you what our pine fertilization program will look like.
Modern methods can sometimes be good things. I'm not offering apologies for farmers that act modern and simply use synthetic fertilizer and a varied chemical bath to pump as much corn out of the ground as they can each year, but that kind of thinking is hardly modern anyway. I would advocate agriculture that employs some of the soil building methodologies of organic farming along with a little synthetic fertilizer at the proper time to boost the harvest. We just can't continue to taken from the Earth without putting something back. And there was much more than Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium there to begin with.
One other thing we did differently for this planting was our method of clearing the land for planting. After a clear-cut there is a lot of left over "waste." There are stumps and treetops and branches everywhere. Plenty of firewood if you have time to cut it. Ordinarily either all this material is burned, or a bulldozer is brought in and pushes it into big windrows. Both of these methods leave very little organic matter on the soil surface. Thus there is little left to protect the soil from drying out and little left to break down and feed the new trees. There is a fairly new method available for site preparation called mulching
. A skidder is brought in with a huge cylinder mounted on the front. There are carbide teeth on the cylinder and when it spins it shreds everything in its path, even whole tree stumps. This leaves a thick layer of mulch on the ground. Just like mulching your flower beds, but on a much larger scale. You dig a hole in the mulch, stick in your containerized seedling, walk ten feet and plant the next one. Then you hope for rain.