Steven Meyen looks at seasonal tasks in the plantation.
When small trees start to grow in spring, their roots need to be able to take up sufficient nutrients and moisture to grow strongly. However, if moisture and nutrients are lacking at this time of year it will result in disappointing, stunted tree growth.
It is therefore very important to have the vegetation surrounding small trees well controlled at the start of the growing season. Small trees need all the help they can get from their friends.
I also believe that 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 than cure.
Successful vegetation control can be done either manually by trampling down the vegetation surrounding the small trees or by carrying out a chemical herbicide treatment.
Using herbicides has the added benefit that by killing off grass and weeds, the nutrients and soil moisture are more readily available to the tree roots rather than the surrounding grass and weeds. When carrying out chemical spraying around the trees, aim for a weed free circle of one metre around each tree.
If grass has grown up around the tree, pull the grass away from around the tree first before spraying: too often the poor tree gets killed too while spraying the surrounding vegetation.
The grey squirrel was introduced into Ireland in 1911. Since then, its spread has been steady and has contributed to the decline of the protected native red squirrel.
Grey squirrels cause serious damage to broadleaf trees. March to late June seems to be the period when most damage is done. They strip the bark, feed on the sap and will severely reduce timber quality.
This damage may lead to timber discolouration, windsnap, disease, insect and fungal attack. Grey squirrels seem to like beech, sycamore and maple in particular but are also very happy to seriously damage other tree species as well.
Over the last few years, persistent anecdotal reports suggest that grey squirrels are on the decline in some areas. Buzzards and pine martens usually get the credit for dealing very efficiently with this serious tree pest.
Having said that, it does appear that the greys are once again very active this spring causing substantial damage to broadleaf trees.
So, when you're out for a walk in your woodland, look up into the crowns and check for damage by greys. You can give pine martens and buzzards a helping hand by shooting or trapping this tree pest. Once caught, maybe you should consider one of Joe Barry's recipes? The dishes he suggests are squirrel casserole, 'Southern Fried Squirrel' or even 'flightless grouse'.
Late planting, high risks
The planting season for bare rooted plants is now well and truly over. It is still OK to use cold store trees for a few more weeks. 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'. This can extend the trees' dormancy by several weeks.
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, it is a high risk strategy as planting cold store trees late in the planting season can be risky as the risk of drought increases. 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 will need to be replanted during the next planting season. By then, many of the advantages associated with the initial tree establishment will have disappeared. The surrounding 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.
Correct timing of fertiliser application
Satisfactory nutrient levels in growing trees is of critical importance for the successful development of your forest. If a fertiliser application is required at the time of establishment it will be assessed by your forestry consultant/company. If additional fertiliser is required later on it should be decided by a chemical analysis of foliar samples. This is done for conifers in November/December and for broadleaves and larches in August.
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, ie in April and May.
Fertiliser should be applied after planting, broadcast (manually) evenly distributed during suitable weather. Avoid fertiliser ending up in drains and keep well away from rivers and streams. Do not apply fertiliser to waterlogged soil or during or after heavy rainfall.
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.