Even though large-scale tree planting (more than 5 acres) will have been organised by this time of year (beginning of Nov) it’s not too late to organise planting for smaller areas of up to one acre. The following guidelines should help with such planting schemes and a vision of the future mature woodland.
Planning your tree planting
Natural Regeneration is often a much better option for establishing trees in woodland sites where there are enough seed trees. Also it’s worth considering establishment with seed rather than planting small trees. If you are planting an area that was not previously wooded, you are initially creating a plantation rather than planting a woodland. Creating a diverse woodland may take centuries. There has been some good discussion on this in Ecos recently.
Timing of your plant buying is important. You should order your plants in October or early November, because as soon as the plants become dormant they will be lifted. Generally for lighter free-draining land, plant in the autumn and, for heavy waterlogged clay soils, you should plant trees after Christmas.
Choose your plants carefully. Smaller plants of 40-60cm height are usually easier to establish and need less aftercare than larger ones. Consider native provenance and try to choose the right species for your site. Take great care, because the saplings, if they survive, will be growing for a long time and how you plant them will have long term implications for their growth. Cell-grown plants are becoming more popular and have certain advantages. There are lots of good nurseries easily found on the web, go for UK grown stock rather than imported plant material. Several of the nursery sites give good useful information both online and on the phone.
How do you set about the actual tree planting?
If the ground is permanently waterlogged then turn the turf over and plant on that so the roots are clear of standing water. If there is dense weed then either spray with weed killer in the previous summer or clear first. Ideally you should plant in dull, warmer, still conditions and never in frost. Keep plants covered at all times, never let the roots dry out. In sunny weather ensure plants do not heat up in their bag – the best bags are white outside and black inside.
Using small plants, make a slot with a suitable planting spade and then slide the roots into the slot from one side so that they fan out and go to their full length. Close the slot with your heel making sure there is no air gap and the roots are in contact with the soil. Take care not to damage the delicate stem with your heel and do not compact the soil too much. Planting spades are not cheap but they are essential, and have an extra flap welded onto the left side to protect your sole! Planting depth should be the same as the nursery depth, not deeper, not shallower.
How densely should you plant?
The minimum density for grant-aided planting is 3m x 3m (for broadleaf), but 2m x 2m is considered better by some as the canopy will close sooner and there are more trees from which to select at thinning stage. 3m x 3m means that the trees are planted in rows that are three metres apart and in each row the spacing is 3 metres between trees.
What can you do to help your young trees?
You will be fighting nature until the trees are established at say year 10, at which point the chances of successful establishment are good. One thing that will help your trees is careful planting following the instructions of the nursery and this guide, using good stock and using stock that has not been transplanted.
Herbivores - voles, rabbits, hares, deer (small, medium and large) - and domestic livestock will all graze the tops of young trees and the thin bark unless the plants are protected. You can protect with spiral guards, tubex tree shelters (they come in different heights) or with fencing. Vole collars are available to protect against voles. Grey squirrels will, regrettably, wait until the trees are established before attacking.
Helping your trees overcome competition
Grass and weeds will take most of the nutrients and will stunt tree growth unless they are removed (leaving bare earth), are covered in a mulch or treated with herbicide. For best results this should be a metre square around each plant. Do not put mulch against the bark. Do not use un-rotted mulch (it will take up nitrogen) and never mow around trees as this encourages the grass! For those who aren’t gardeners, a mulch is a layer of some material placed on the earth which prevents weeds growing up and helps keep moisture in the soil.
Scarce resources – water, nutrients, air and light
Mulching will help conserve water as will weed removal; nutrients are not usually limited in lowland sites except by lack of the water by which they are transported. You should avoid soil compaction and water-logging, both of which will restrict air supply to the roots. The roots of your new trees need to take in oxygen and respire carbon dioxide; tall weeds and overhanging trees will limit the light supply to young trees.
There are two good printed books on the practicalities of tree-planting:
Evans J (1984) Silviculture of Broadleaved Woodland FC Bulletin 62 @ £9.50 and can be obtained from Forestry Commission publications.
Also see online http://handbooks.btcv.org.uk/handbooks/content/chapter/687 but do purchase the bound paper version of the BTCV’s The Woodland Handbook at their online shop.
Good luck! What are your tips for successful planting and establishment of new trees? Add your comments below.
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