A group of Linn County woodland owners on their annual picnic outing, stood in the shade of a 25 year old Douglas-fir plantation on McCully Mountain on a warm afternoon two weeks ago, as Linda Butts talked about the history and growth of the stand.  Planted at 440 T/A, pruned to 8 feet and thinned with a processor three years ago to 170 T/A, it was easy to move around, see the condition of the leave trees, and how they were growing.  The group talked about the thinning, small wood markets (Linda sold thinning as pulp or chip & saw), and of course there was some discussion (unresolved) about whether or not they had taken quite enough trees or not.  But all agreed the stand was looking pretty darn good.

Linda talking about a stand on her family property
Linda talking about a stand on her family property

We also talked a fair bit about getting the stand started 25 yrs ago.  Joining Linda in the discussion were Mike Barsotti and Rod Bardell, retired ODF Service Foresters who had worked with her and other private family forestland owners much of their careers.  What was fun for me was listening to their recollections not just about that particular planting, but also about how much was being learned about planting and establishment in the 70’s and 80’s.  It is always interesting to hear from some of the pioneers.

Linda and her late husband Lynn began converting pasture to trees when foresters were still learning some basic lessons about the effects of compacted pasture soils on seedling growth, and about just how competitive grasses and other perennial herbs proved to be with tree seedlings .  People were trying both plowing and sub-soiling to alleviate the compaction.  The value of effective weed control in old field conversions, and use of various herbicides to obtain it was still being figured out too.

The observations in the field from foresters and landowners, along with robust research and Extension programs led to the understanding we have today that lets us reliably establish tree and shrub seedlings in conversions (such as Linda’s) reforestation situations, and also riparian projects.

Why bring this up?

I was visiting recently with Dave Thompson (Polk Co. Stewardship Forester) talking about the surge in harvest this spring and summer.  This is no surprise, given the long-awaited rise in log prices.  Dave thought many family forest landowners, including many first time sellers,  were able to catch the wave and sell some logs at good prices this year, not just the large companies.   Dave remarked that he’s likely to be busy making planting inspections in the next couple years and a bunch more “free to grow” checks several years after that.  It had us both thinking “I hope people remember the basics”.

My point is, successful planting and establishment is neither mysterious, nor rocket science. Success comes from understanding some basic principles (well-understood), and by paying attention to details.  It is my observation that experience is also a very helpful ingredient.  This does not mean everyone has to suffer the same set backs, nor re-invent the wheel.  Happily, experience and knowledge can be shared.  So, if you are an “old hand” offer to share some of what you learned to a neighbor starting out.  If you are new to planting trees, don’t be shy.  Try to avail yourself of the knowledge and experience of others.  It could save you years.

Brad Withrow-Robinson

Butts clan by log deck from current thinning to release oak.
Butts clan by log deck from current thinning to release oak.
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