I returned to Julie’s property some weeks after they had completed their tree planting to see how things looked. Julie greeted me with a smile as she proudly led me through their brand-new forest. And she had every right to be proud of their work.
Where they had done machine planting, I saw row after row of well planted trees. And their hand planting in the forest openings were looking quite good as well. When I asked her how things went, she laughed and said, “a bit slow and clumsy at first, but we eventually got the hang of it.”
She then peppered me with questions about how to protect their trees and help them to flourish. Fortunately, we had talked about most of her concerns before and had already thought of ways to address them during the planning phase. But now that the trees were in the ground the reality of those issues was upon her.
The first thing she wanted to discuss was how to gauge how well the planting is doing. They realized some of the seedlings they planted would not survive or would be eaten by wildlife and planted extra trees to account for that. Now she wanted to know if they had planted enough.
Rather than check the condition of every tree I showed her a method for measuring/evaluating a few of the trees and using that information to provide a picture of the whole planting. This sampling method is described in detail at this Wisconsin DNR website in the “monitoring” section. It is a simple and easy to do process that I teach to many landowners.
Julie and I did a few sample plots within her plantation and found her survival rate was very high, so far. We found little damage from wildlife and no signs that disease or insects were affecting the trees. Julie felt comfortable doing the process on her own, and we discussed monitoring the planting a couple of times during the first growing season and once a season after that for the next three years.
We then talked about how to keep her trees from becoming food for wildlife. In the flat area they machine planted their plan is to simply keep it mowed low. They are fortunate to have a family member who is retired and willing to mow the plantation on a regular basis. Along with eliminating the cover for small mammals from predators, the mowing would reduce the competition for water and nutrients the seedlings have with other plants.
Small mammals like mice, voles, and rabbits will feed on the leaves, buds, inner bark, and branches of seedlings, especially in the early spring and late fall when there isn’t much else to eat. I suggested adding some raptor perches around the plantation, so owls and hawks have a good vantage point for hunting small mammals. You can see an example of one of these perches on page 20 of this publication.
Julie asked about applying deer repellents to her trees and I thought this was a good idea. With all the deer in her area she was especially concerned about the hardwood trees they planted. She wasn’t too excited about the idea of putting up a fence to keep the deer out nor putting tree shelters around all the seedlings, so using a repellent seemed like the best solution. Again, they are lucky to have their retiree who is willing to reapply the repellent after a rainstorm.
Julie was most concerned about keeping an eye out for insect and disease problems. I explained to her that these can be a bit harder to detect and identify, and it is best for the experts to diagnose. Her plan is to watch for anything that doesn’t look healthy or dying and send a picture of it to her local DNR Forester for an analysis.
Before I left, I expressed my admiration for the enthusiasm they put into their tree planting and how it would ultimately lead to a successful forest in the future. Like many landowners I work with she was uncertain as to what was enough planning and preparation for this activity and was glad to hear they were doing the right thing.