Pay attention to young plantations now to maximise your future crop
With the planting season coming to an end, owners of young plantations should crack on with some general maintenance and spring cleaning. The first four years -- the establishment phase -- of a new forest are crucial and some attention to detail now will pay dividends in ensuring a well-stocked and healthy crop for the future.
Areas that should be looked at include:
• Stocking density: Dead trees must be replaced, known as 'beating up'. Payment of the second phase of the grant is conditional on a minimum 90pc survival rate -- 2,250 (conifers) or 2,970 (broadleaves) live, healthy trees per hectare.
A few plots chosen at random throughout the plantation should be sampled. To check the numbers is simplicity itself: all you need is two bamboos and a tape measure (or length of baler twine exactly 8m long, plus enough to tie a knot).
A circle with a radius of 8m has an area of exactly 1/50th of a hectare, so place one bamboo in the middle of the plot, attach to it the end of the tape measure (or string), pace out 8m and mark your starting point with the second bamboo. Now, holding the tape taut, walk in a circle counting the live trees within the circle as you go. Don't cheat; if any tree lies just beyond the end of the string ignore it. A fully stocked circle will contain at least 50 conifers or 66 broadleaves, so at year four the minimum requirement will be 45 and 60 trees respectively.
In the intervening years, near to full stocking should be maintained. Averaging the numbers in the plots will give a good indication of the overall failure rate and consequently the amount of beating up required.
• Spring cleaning: Competing vegetation poses a significant threat to young trees and is the commonest cause of poor performance, even failure. As well as stealing light, moisture and nutrients, weeds suppress small trees and cause physical damage. Broadleaves are particularly susceptible to nutrient and moisture competition, and on the more fertile sites vegetation is likely to be more lush and pose a still greater threat.
Some weed competition, especially in young conifers, can be trampled or cut back with a hook, particularly so where physical damage is the main threat, rather than competition for nutrients and moisture. By and large, once a healthy conifer has a head start over surrounding vegetation it will outgrow it, but there will be instances where there is a need to resort to chemical treatment.