Dorrigo Nursery

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Establishing Farm Forestry Plantations

Establishing your Trees

Planning a Farm Forestry Operation that Suits You: The primary aim of this page is to provide you with guidelines on how to successfully plant trees.
However, it also aims to encourage you to carefully consider the reasons why you are planting these trees and to go through a thorough planning process before you reach the point of actually putting them in the ground.
This planning will generally involve looking at your property holistically, which may include doing a whole farm plan, and designing a planting system which addresses multiple needs.
A number of surveys show that landholders plant trees primarily for non wood values such as shelter, landcare, biodiversity and improving farm production.
This comes from a perception that you plant trees either to produce or to satisfy other farm needs and that the two cannot be integrated. However, a carefully planned woodlot, shelterbelt or riparian planting, can each satisfy a range of your targeted needs.
This concept of multipurpose plantings, which would use commercial species even in a situation where wood production is not the primary focus, is not a widely recognised one, but is one which needs due consideration in the planning process.
Where plantings of commercial timber species are incorporated into the farm plan as a management tool, trees can then offer the on farm advantages in the short term, while providing the option of selective harvest for income diversification in the long term.
For example, fencing gullies and drainage lines economically often requires the incorporation of a percentage of more level ground, ground which is suited to timber production.
In these cases the incorporation of commercial species becomes a valid management plan.
These types of plantings can also be made in conjunction with discrete woodlots which would be aiming for increased log volumes.
Landholders on the Dorrigo Plateau, for example, are incorporating discrete woodlots into the plan at the rate of 1-5 hectares per year.
If woodlots are established at this rate for a period of 25-30 years then a sustainable system will come into place whereby 1-5 hectares may be harvested per annum.
Should the landholder continue to plant at this rate a sustainable income from forest management is in place.
On this scale issues involved with site maintenance, such as weed control and pruning, are also addressed with the size making it more achievable for the individual farmer to carry out themselves.
These are the main concepts of planning a farm forestry operation.
Plant only what you can manage and maximise the benefits of your plantings by using commercial species to address on farm management strategies.

Once you have done this, the importance of your establihment regime comes into place.
Giving the trees a strong start by following the simple guidelines presented in this page will allow you to maximise the benefits you are seeking from any planting

Establishing your Trees
The first and most important thing to know about trees is that the growth of a tree throughout its whole life is established by the first two years of growth.
It is, therefore, crucial to ensure that in the first two years of life the young tree is provided with ideal growing conditions.
Following are some basic steps towards achieving this ideal.

Species Selection
Quality Seedlings
Ground Preparation
Weed Control
Fencing and Guarding
Quality Planting
Fertilizer
The Second Season

Species Selection
In farm forestry it is important to recognise that you not only need to grow trees, you also need to be able to sell them when they mature as a product.
Therefore species selection should not only be guided by trees ability to survive and grow well in your conditions, but also by the markets and products that are utilised by your local timber industry.
Once again this comes down to planning your farm forestry operation, researching the products you can sell, identifying the species that produce these products and then trialing these species for survival and growth rates.
Another thing that needs to be considered is the concept of critical mass product.
If neighbours are growing one species it is probably wise for you to grow that species too and maximise your collective bargaining power at time of sale.

Quality Seedlings
As genetic principles are critical for producing high quality cattle, so are they critical for producing high quality trees.
The characteristics of a parent tree carry strongly onto the seed and in turn, the seedling.
This can affect not only the eventual look or form of the tree, but also its ability to survive in any range of environmental conditions.
It is therefore important to know that the seedlings you are purchasing have come from a guaranteed seed source.
It would be unwise, for example, to plant a seedling wich came from a coastal provenance at high altitude due to its likely intolerance to cold.
Seedling vigour and quality are also critical factors to look for as many problems can be created, even in seedlings from high quality source, by poor nursery practice.
The two most common of these are J-rooting (see Photo) and root binding, both factors which will cause significant problems in the tree at a later date.
When removed from the pot, roots should be seen to be growing down with white fibres visible.
Ideally the seedling to plant should be 300-400mm tall with a stem diameter at the base of 3-4mm.
Any seedling failing to meet these criteria should be rejected.

Ground Preparation
The primary objective of ground preparation is to allow for the easy penetration of air, water and roots into the soil.
It is also important to consider plantation layout and design as part of the ground preparation process as this will allow for ease of maintenance and harvest in the long run.
Fire breaks are also an important consideration.
Plantations are generally established on 3 x 4m grid but there is the option of planting at closer spacing to hasten site control and offer more selection of stems down the line if you so choose.
Alternatively, using improved genetic material can allow you to reduce this stocking rate as the importance of stem selection down the track is reduced as seedling quality improves.
Below is a guide to plantation spacing and stocking rates:
3 x 4m 833 stems/hectare
3 x 3m 1111 stems/hectare
3 x 2.5m 1333 stems/hectare

Sites should be ripped as deeply as possible on the contour.
Farm tractors may be suitable to use with a single tyne chisel plough or multi tyned agro plough across the whole site.
Planting rows may then be cultivated with offset discs to prepare the bed for the seedlings.
Industrial style plantings are generally ripped and mounded using a savannah plough.
Mounding has the advantage of concentrating fertile top soil in the centre of the mound, assisting drainage and lifting seedlings slightly out of the frost.
Some sites will be inaccessible to machinery and, in this case, deep holes can be dug by shovel.

Weed Control
Complete weed control is one of the essentials for good growth rates.
The seedlings should be planted into a weed free environment and maintained in this way for their first two years.
This can be achieved chemically or manually as long as an area of 1m in diameter is kept free around the tree and the weeds are tackled before they represent competition to the tree.
Organic methods which have been proven successful include cultivating the site to bury weeds prior to planting and planting while the site is still weed free.
Any weed growth would then need to be chipped from around the tree as necessary.
Mulching to a depth of 100mm at least a square metre around each tree is also a successful weed suppressant and the use of cover crops at the point of plantation establishment may be looked into.
Chemical methods may include blanket, strip or spot spraying of the site with glyphosate which then, in accordance to landholder preference, could be followed by the application of pre emergent residual herbicide prior to planting.
Depending on weed growth a second application of herbicide may be required in the first growing season and in the second season an application of selective herbicide may be required.
It is most important with chemical weed control to remember that trees are plants and herbicides will kill them if not used according to directions.

Fencing and Guarding
Trees and cattle are not compatible in the early years of a plantation so they must be fenced out along with any other pests including hares, wallabies and rabbits.
Smaller animals may be kept from trees with individual guards however this is an expensive option.
To minimise wallaby browsing the best option is to plant before Christmas to give the seedlings a chance to grow while there is still an alternative food source available.
Wallabies tend to leave trees alone once they get to 600-700mm in height.

Quality Planting
The most important rule is to plant in the appropriate season and only when soil moisture is high.
Let the rain do your watering for you.
Planting methods available include machine and hand planting (using potiputkis or shovels).
Machine planting may prove more economical on a larger scale where machine access is not a problem.
Regardless of the method, a number of guidelines must be followed when planting:
  • soak seedlings before planting

  • plant seedlings firmly so that there are no air pockets around the root ball and the roots are making good contact with the soil
  • bury the root plug to a depth of 20-40mm below the surface to help prevent the root plug from drying out in the first few days after planting before root growth has commenced
  • the seedling should be planted upright.

Fertilizer
For best growth seedlings should be fertilized 4 weeks after planting once the roots have started to grow.
Fertilizer can kill new seedlings so take care with its application.
Generally fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorous are recommended but different soils will have different requirements and this is worth considering.
When fertilizing it is best to place 50g 75mm into the ground or 150g on top of the ground approximately 200mm from the seedling.
Nitrogen is lost to the air when fertilizer is placed on the ground so it is best to do this when it is raining.
Organic fertilizer such as dynamic lifter or blood and bone may be used in the same manner.
Some growers also find it successul to fertilize their trees with small quantities of 20g several times a season when it rains.

The Second Season
Follow up maintenance is critical to ensure the plantation gets a goodstart.
This includes weed control, a second application of fertiliser and replants in any failed sections.
A plantation can be considered successful if 80% survival has been achieved and the seedlings are one third higher than any broad leaf weeds on site.
On a good quality site you could expect the tree to be 2-4m tall at the end of this second season.
Written by Mark Sandstrom & Jo Parker

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