Last week we started the process of turning open pastures into quality silvopastures by asking the questions we should all ask before we start a new project:
Will it be profitable?
Can I afford it?
Do I have the time to do it right?
If you answered yes to the above considerations and are ready to plunge ahead, then start by developing a Planting Plan. Let’s start by looking at the minimum your plan will include:
A map showing the delineations and acreages of different sites
Site classification can be done from a combination of soils maps and field observations. For the purpose of matching the right tree to the right location, site quality can be classified as simply as “fair, good and great”. The better the site quality, the broader the selection of tree species to choose from and the greater the probability of a profitable project. Yes, it may be possible to get trees to grow on poor sites (soils that are too wet, too droughty, too shallow, too acidic, etc.), but those trees will be more susceptible to problems and less likely to pay for themselves.
A budget, including on-going expenses
Again, don’t cut corners. And when it comes to seedlings, the bargains will usually cost more in the end. Invest in the best quality seedlings possible, and look for “genetically improved” material when available.
A design showing the spacings, configurations, trees/acre, tree species, etc.
The design should attempt to optimize the net value of the plantation, and contemplate cost-effective methods for tree protection. Protecting dense blocks or rows of trees is usually more cost-effective than individually protecting and tending widely-spaced trees. Consult with local experts (NRCS, Soil and Water, Cooperative Extension, Consulting Foresters) for advice on species selection that will grow well on particular sites and also achieve your objectives. Don’t assume that all species offered through a local nursery or seedling program are free of significant pests or will grow well in your climate and soils.
Site preparation and maintenance considerations
Site preparation activities should start well before the trees show up. Hardwoods are usually less tolerant of competition from sod than softwoods (conifers), and therefore require more intensive care. Killing the sod in the vicinity of where a tree will be planted is a must for most tree species to survive and grow well. But the disturbance usually opens the door for other aggressive “weeds” to fill the void, which must be controlled post-planting. Mulching, mowing, spraying, grubbing and even grazing are all options for on-going vegetation control, but some will work better than others for a particular situation. Grazing and mowing are generally not as effective as the roots of the competing plants continue to inhibit the growth and expansion of the seedling root systems. Maintenance should continue until trees are well-established and are large enough to resist damage by livestock and wildlife. Young plantations can often be “flash grazed” with minimal damage, but the timing is important. Consider grazing around young trees when dormant and when animals are not being attacked by biting flies. The majority of grazing damage is usually caused by a minority of animals (like bulls), so be ready to separate out the problem animals.
Throughout my forestry career, I’ve overseen the planting of an estimated two million young trees. Nonetheless, I consider my learning curve to be far from over. If you’re new to the challenges of tree planting in pasture environments, then start small and keep it simple. But done well, the creation of silvopastures through tree planting can certainly be a worthwhile and “profitable” undertaking.
Read This to Get Going on the Next Steps
To get you started on your plan, a must-read resource is this Tree Planting Bulletin from Cornell. It takes you through the planning process step by step. You’ll even learn about how to handle seedlings and proper planting techniques.
While these steps work well no matter where you live, if you’re not in the Northeast, you’ll want to check with your local extension, NRCS or Conservation District staff for ideas on additional resources about the specific types of trees and understory plantings that will work best for you.
Stay Tuned! Brett will be back with more information on getting your forested pasture going.