Assessing Your Forest for Spring

by: Mike Nystrom, DNR Landowner Assistance Forester 

Sam Comstock and Mike Nystrom talk about forest seedlings. Photo: Lelde Vilkriste
Sam Comstock and Mike Nystrom talk about forest seedlings. Photo: Lelde Vilkriste

March is right around the corner. If you need to plant this year it should be done soon. Planting tree seedlings at the right time of year will help avoid some post-planting problems, such as drought and transplant shock. It is best to plant when seedlings are in dormant condition, generally December 15 to April 15. The sooner seedlings are planted; the sooner root growth starts and the plants can begin adjusting to their new environment. Never plant in frozen ground during freezing temperatures. The fine root hairs will freeze.

This is also the time of year for forest landowners to assess the health and vigor of the trees you planted in the last five years. With the leaves off the brush, early March, is a great time to walk through your young forest stands. You should assess your seedling survival and anticipate what needs to be done to keep those young trees free to grow. As you walk, see if you can find trees surviving. If you planted 300 trees per acre you should find trees roughly 12 feet apart. Keep some notes of what you see. In particular, are the trees still above the brush? If they are being overtopped, take note of the species that is beginning to crowd them out. Next, formulate a plan to keep your crop trees growing. Get help from a landowner assistance forester if you are uncertain about what to do next. If competing vegetation is a problem, don’t wait to take care of it. Conifer seedlings, especially Douglas-fir, will slow in growing and begin to shut down within a year or two of being overtopped by brush or hardwoods. To resolve overcrowding, you have several weeding options from mechanical to selective herbicide applications. If it is a relatively small area you might do it yourself, but if you have a large area you might consider hiring a professional silvicultural contractor to get the job done. Begin to plan now as vegetation management needs to take place during spring, summer, and early fall for best results. Sometimes cost share money is available through the NRCS EQIP to help defray the costs.

Mike Nystrom, the western Washington Stewardship Forester, is available to do site visits on properties over ten acres to help you make this decision.

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