Farm Ireland

Wednesday 24 April 2019

Getting young trees off to a good start

Relying on late planting is a risky strategy

Steven Meyen

Steven Meyen

The planting season for bare rooted plants is well and truly over. It is still OK to use cold store trees for a few more weeks though. This way the planting season can be extended. Cold store trees are trees that are lifted from the nursery beds when they are still fully dormant and placed in large chilled storage facilities, 'cold stores'.

There are advantages and disadvantages associated with this approach. Cold store plants tend to give excellent results if they are handled well and planted within two weeks of removal from the cold store.

However, planting cold store trees in the spring is a high risk strategy. If a dry period follows late planting, the mortality rate due to drought can be very high: I have seen young plantations with a 75pc mortality rate.

These failed trees need to be replanted during the next planting season. By then, many of the advantages associated with the initial tree establishment will have disappeared: grass and weeds will have overgrown the mounds, the soil will have become more compacted and the benefits of some additional fertiliser at the time of planting will have disappeared too.

Nutrient levels

Satisfactory nutrient levels in growing trees is of critical importance.

Your forestry consultant/ company will assess if a fertiliser application is required at the time of establishment. If additional fertiliser is required later on, should be decided by a chemical analysis of leaf / needle samples.

This 'foliar analysis' is carried out in in November/December for conifers and in August in the case of broadleaves and larches.

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You are allowed to broadcast fertiliser from April to August. For best results however, it is advisable to apply fertiliser when the trees need the nutrients the most, i.e. in April and May.

Broadcast the fertiliser evenly during suitable weather. Avoid fertiliser ending up in drains and keep well away from rivers, streams, etc.

Do not apply fertiliser to waterlogged soil or when heavy rainfall has been forecast.

It is also a good idea to monitor application while the work is in progress ensuring that the appropriate amount of fertiliser has been delivered and applied correctly, where it is most needed. As per Murphy's Law, trees that need a boost don't tend to grow near the road!

Controlling vegetation

When small trees start to grow in spring, their roots require sufficient nutrients and moisture to grow strongly. So make sure that the surrounding vegetation is well controlled at the start of the tree growing season.

If surrounding grass and weeds are allowed to get out of hand, it will be much more difficult and more expensive to bring the situation back under control. As the doctor says, prevention is better (and cheaper) than cure.

Successful vegetation control can be done either manually by trampling down the surrounding vegetation or by carrying out a chemical herbicide treatment.

Using herbicides has the added benefit that the nutrients and soil moisture are more readily available to the tree roots rather than the surrounding grass and weed roots.

Steven Meyen is a Teagasc forestry advisor

Make tracks for timber 2017 at the home of the electric picnic

Timber 2017, the biennial Irish Forestry, Woodland & Bioenergy Show ( will take place on May 5-6 at the Stradbally Hall Estate in Co Laois, best known for playing host host to the annual Electric Picnic festival.

If you have a forest on the farm or are involved with a forest or timber enterprise then you definitely don't want to miss TIMBER 2017.

It is a great opportunity to see forestry-related machinery, products and services.

It is shaping up to be a great show with many and varied organisations, companies, contractors and suppliers already booked in. TIMBER 2017 will also feature a wide range of demonstrations and activities including tree climbing and wood carving.

Teagasc's Forestry Development Department will also be there highlighting its extensive advisory, research and training services. Particular focus this year will be on the benefits of planting trees on the farm. Options range from native woodland initiatives to productive conifers, as well as agroforestry and forestry for fibre options.

Teagasc will have its own marquee and demonstration area where forestry advisers, researchers and specialists will be available over the two days to answer your questions on how best to incorporate a forest into your farm and to provide on the spot management advice.

See the latest research on tree breeding, conifer and broadleaf silviculture, site classification and on how best to prepare your forests for thinning, harvesting and marketing.

Teagasc's Education Department will be there highlighting forestry courses and training available.

Several Forest Owner Groups will be represented in the Teagasc Marquee providing information on their activities.

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