For landowners with long-term, multiple-use resource management objectives, integrating longleaf pine into your land management plan will offer one of the most insect-, disease- and fire-resistant pines in the South, in addition to creating an ideal habitat for a variety of plants and wildlife.
While last month’s column focused on why you should plant longleaf pine on your property, this month we will explore how you can plant this pine most effectively.
Below are a few considerations to review to increase your success before you begin planting:
Seedling choice: Landowners have two options regarding longleaf seedling purchase: containerized or bareroot seedlings. Though containerized seedlings are more expensive, the increased survival rate of planting containerized longleafs far outweighs the cost. Seedlings should be pre-ordered between February and April.
Site preparation: If you are planting longleaf in old fields or pastures with the presence of perennial grasses, use chemicals to eliminate them prior to planting, preferably between February and April.
The soil may also need to be scalped or peeled back in a furrow about 30 to 36 inches wide and 2 to 4 inches deep. For fields with a hardpan or plow-pan, it is best to subsoil or “rip” about 18 to 24 inches deep several months before (between June and September) in order to allow room for seedling root growth.
Be sure to follow the contour of the land when scalping and ripping to avoid erosion.
For planting longleaf on cutover forestland without a longleaf over-story, landowners should clearcut and apply a chemical site preparation between February and April and burn between June and September.
A chemical site preparation is more desirable than a mechanical one because of its ability to control unwanted hardwoods while retaining the native perennial herbaceous species that are valuable to wildlife.
Planting time and weather: Plant early in the season (as early as October and preferably before Christmas) for better survival and growth rate. Ideal planting temperature is between 33 and 75 degrees F. with a relative humidity between 30 and 50 percent.
Wind speed should be less than 10 miles per hour to avoid drying exposed seedling roots. Plant seedlings as soon as possible after delivery. Avoid planting in dry or frozen soils; wait for rain to wet the upper 6 inches of soil.
Planting methods: Generally speaking, containerized seedlings have higher survival rates when hand planted (using plug tools, hoedads or dibble bars).
For containerized seedlings on flat planted sites, be sure the plug is slightly exposed above the soil surface. On scalped sites, leave one to two inches of the plug exposed.
If planting on a scalped site, plant seedlings about 6 inches to the side of the rip in order to avoid the risk of water uncovering or burying seedlings; this will also allow the taproot to penetrate deeper into the soil and increase water availability to the tree.
If planting a pasture or another area that will not erode, plant seedlings so the root collar is directly at the soil surface.
For cropland or other heavily site-prepared areas, plant so the root collar is about 0.25 to 0.5 inches beneath the soil surface. Planting too deep will result in seedling death.
Also, make sure the soil is compacted enough to eliminate air pockets around the seedling roots.
Longleaf pines need ample space to grow. Most cost-share programs dictate a 400 to 500 tree per acre planting density.
Post planting: If needed, landowners should apply an herbaceous release in April before the weeds emerge or in May after weeds emerge.
One summer after the first planting, check for seedling mortality and interplant.
The following November through March, conduct a prescribed burn if more than 20 percent of the seedlings are infected with brown-spot needle blight.
Once seedlings are healthy and established, a prescribed burning program is a cost-effective means to manage unwanted hardwoods and help transform the ground cover to grass savannah species that provide desirable wildlife habitat.
A mixture of dormant and growing season fires is needed to encourage existing native vegetation and suppress unwanted growth.
Longleaf pines are fire tolerant, but are most vulnerable when they are six inches to three feet tall and should not be burned during the growing season when they are in the “candling” stage (when the terminal bud is tender and white).
With a well-maintained management program, longleaf pine will provide a versatile species with a variety of benefits, for both you and future generations of landowners.
For detailed information regarding planting, check out the Longleaf Alliance website at http://www.longleafalliance.org.