Douglas-fir seedlingsEach year, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 200 million trees are planted across British Columbia.

Reforestation is an ongoing activity that requires knowledge of the forest site and the species involved, as well as an understanding of the risks, constraints and establishment techniques available. To be successful, reforestation also requires advance planning, follow-up monitoring and tending.

Because reforestation is such an important part of managing your woodland, we’ve collaborated with our favourite resource again (Managing Your Woodlands: A Non-forester’s Guide to Small-scale Forestry in British Columbia) to highlight some important points to consider when putting together a reforestation plan for your operation.

There are a number of ways to approach reforestation:

  1. Let nature handle it (natural regeneration)
  2. Assist nature (seed tree selection, site preparation)
  3. Shortcut nature (artificial regeneration)
  4. A combination of the above methods

The method you choose will depend on:

  • your management goals
  • the presence of a seed source
  • the site capability and characteristics
  • your ability to finance reforestation
  • the time period in which you want to establish a new crop

Because B.C.’s Private Managed Forest Land Act requires forest owners to reforest with commercial species, we focus on artificial regeneration here. Check out Managing Your Woodlands: A Non-forester’s Guide to Small-scale Forestry in British Columbia for more detailed information on the different approaches to reforestation.

Regardless of your approach, you need to think about your reforestation plan long before you harvest. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Start with a Site Assessment

Site assessment looks at the physical and productive characteristics of the site, including:

  • soil characteristics
  • drainage and moisture regime
  • nutrient status and capability

The site assessment also looks at what species are currently growing on the site, as well as any potential constraints to reforestation, including:

  • brush hazard
  • excessively moist or dry areas
  • thin soils, rocky or talus areas
  • forest health issues
  • wildlife concerns

If you don’t feel comfortable handling the project yourself, this is a good point to have a conversation with a forester, or a forest tech, who can help you formulate your reforestation strategy. Knowledgeable and competent consultants are available to give advice, lend guidance or manage the project for you.

Think about Reforestation Species Selection

Species selection for reforestation depends on a number of factors:

  • your personal goals
  • the moisture and nutrient capability of your site
  • the silvics (shade tolerance, growth rates, elevation range, site preferences) of the species
  • what is currently growing on site?

A quick survey of any stumps on-site, as well as the mature forest in neighbouring stands, will give you an idea of nature’s choice of species for the area.

Nature does a pretty good job of figuring out what grows best where. Take time to study the site before you harvest. Look at the trees that thrive there and local variability—wet areas, dry areas, steep areas, flat areas. By looking at the trees that thrive in the different areas, nature can help guide you to know what seedlings to plant where.

Have a Site Preparation Plan

In general, site preparation is carried out in the late summer or fall of the year before planting. The decisions you’ll make about the appropriate site preparation will depend on the site conditions, silvicultural system and management objectives for the area.

Remember: weigh the costs of site preparation against the potential delay in regeneration if no preparation is done.

During harvesting be sure to maintain the fertility of the site. Ensure machinery doesn’t interfere with the ground, compact your soil, impede natural drainage patterns, increase the risk of landslides or otherwise complicate reforestation efforts. Have a plan for how you’ll handle harvesting debris—branches and tops can make reforestation challenging.

Choosing Your Seedling Stock

The type and size of planting stock you choose will depend on the amount of brush competition, soil characteristics, and potential for browse by domestic livestock or wildlife on the site. The choice of stock should be based on the best performance at the least cost.

In general, where competition from other plants is a problem, larger stock outperforms smaller stock. Where site conditions are severe, choosing the “right” plug stock can improve the seedlings’ odds of having the nutrients and protection they need to survive.

Talk to your tree nursery experts. They specialize in growing seedlings and can offer advice on:

  • when to plant
  • the size, age and height of seedlings to plant
  • what species work well on dry sites, brushy sites etc.
  • finding contractors who can do the planting for you

We’re fortunate to know a number of excellent companies who offer quality reforestation stock, expert knowledge and great service. In alphabetical order, we’re happy to recommend:

Planning Ahead for Your Seedlings

If you’re buying seedlings, you need plenty of lead-time to make arrangements. Seedlings take a year or more to produce, so it’s necessary to register a sowing request with the nursery in advance, usually before harvesting begins, and at minimum, about a year and a half prior to planting.

Surplus seedlings may be available once all orders are filled in the spring, but in general, it’s not worth the risk. Sometimes seedlings are in demand, sometimes they’re in surplus—don’t make any assumptions.

Planting Your Seedlings

Planting is carried out with the best success between fall and spring, when temperatures are moderate and soil moisture is up. The number of seedlings planted depends on your management objectives. Less trees per hectare provides more room and nutrients for each tree but will result in larger branch size.

Tree Planting Guidelines:

  • choose planting spots carefully, depending on species’ needs
  • clear immediate area of debris and competing vegetation
  • make planting hole deep enough to accommodate roots without bending
  • plant tree upright, and to the root collar
  • fill soil in and around roots to remove air pockets
  • tamp down soil firmly around planted seedling.

Quality means everything in planting. The 
quality of your reforestation plan from the 
choice of species and stock, to the selection of
 individual planting sites will influence the cost-effectiveness and final success of your reforestation program. The condition of the seedling when it goes into the ground, and how well it is planted are the final keys to survival.

Monitor Your New Crop

Of course, reforestation means more than putting trees back in the ground. It means reestablishing a forest. After artificial regeneration, a number of check-ups must be carried out on a stand to make sure it’s properly established, and to monitor how it is progressing.

Many factors can affect the success of the regenerated site, and it is important to identify any problems as early as possible in order to protect your investment and save you time and money down the road.

Last, but not least: Browse Protection

Buck on Reid Island, B.C.In many parts of the province, browsing by ungulates (deer, elk and moose), or even beaver, hares, mice or voles, can destroy overnight the planning, expense and labour invested in reforestation. If there’s a significant risk of animal damage to your plantation, you need to consider protective measures during the reforestation process.

Essentially, you have three options:

  1. Fencing
  2. Individual seedling protectors/ physical barriers
  3. Treating the seedling with discouraging scents

Though expensive, physical barriers are often considered the most worthwhile. These can take the form of solid plastic cones (Sinocast), plastic mesh (Vexar), wire mesh (stucco wire) cages, net tubes or plastic tubes.

Your choice will be determined by:

  • cost and availability
  • labour to apply, monitor and remove
  • access to site
  • type of browsing animal
  • size of seedling during the susceptible stage
  • wind or snow accumulation

Thanks again to Managing Your Woodlands: A Non-forester’s Guide to Small-scale Forestry in British Columbia for the information.