Planting and Nurturing Future Forests
By Ben Taylor, ACRES Project Manager
Our restoration efforts are my favorite projects to coordinate at ACRES, particularly tree plantings. Since the turn of the century, ACRES has planted roughly 300,000 trees on 600 acres of land!
LAYING THE GROUNDWORK
Much effort goes into planning and preparing before planting. We typically plant trees in areas of need on newer acquisitions, or in farm fields the land donor has requested we return to a natural state. Other times we consider whether continuing to farm the land makes the best ecological sense.
When we determine a need for tree planting, we reach out to various project partners that help us fund the project through cost-share programs. In the past, we have used programs in the Farm Service Agency and Natural Resource Conservation Service, as well as state programs like Lake & River Enhancement (LARE), and other conservation organizations like Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever.
Once funding is secured, we consult with a forester on the tree plan. We typically reach out to Crowe Forest Management with whom ACRES has had a longstanding partnership, due to their local knowledge. (Tom Crowe, owner of CFM, serves on ACRES stewardship committee.) In this phase we look at the land’s soils, hydrology and topography to compile a list of the best trees for the site. Other criteria are considered when we are trying to promote a certain habitat type for wildlife or want to consider a selective timber harvest in the future. Determining these variables helps us determine the appropriate species and quantity for the property’s size.
INTO THE SOIL
When the plan is finalized, it’s time to order the trees. Most of our trees come from the DNR-managed Vallonia State Tree Nursery in southern Indiana. By ordering through the DNR, we can source local trees native to the area. While we occasionally order from private nurseries, we prioritize planting trees native to the region.
Site preparation is often performed by ACRES own stewardship staff, or by contractors if secured funding covers the expense. Preparing a retiring farm field may be as simple as applying a cover crop or forbs mix after the last harvest to prevent invasive species from establishing the following spring. Other times, site preparation requires killing established invasive species in and near the site to prevent the spread of
species that potentially could outcompete saplings.
Come springtime, we are ready for the big event — the planting! This is actually the shortest and easiest part of the process. We most often contract out this part. A forester and their team typically come out with a tree planter — a specialized tool pulled by a tractor that plants the saplings directly into the soil. What used to take a person with a shovel several days can be accomplished in a few hours.
After the trees are planted, ongoing monitoring and maintenance commence. Routine monitoring of a young tree planting ensures we are keeping an eye out for diseases, pests or invasive species. Each year, Stewardship staff spend a large portion of our time managing invasives in these tree plantings. If the work gets beyond our capacity, we seek additional funding sources to contract out some of the workload.
I encourage you to meet me at Acres Along the Wabash on May 13, 2023 to learn more about ACRES tree plantings in the various stages you may want to follow in your own tree planting. Visit acreslandtrust.org/events for more information.