Typical sequence of a silvicultural system.

Silviculture is the art and science of controlling the establishment, growth, composition and quality of your forest vegetation for a full range of forest resource objectives—‘silvi’ comes from the Latin word ‘silva’ which means a wood or forest, and ‘culture’ means cultivation.

Successful silviculture relies on clearly defined management objectives. It’s not just about managing forests for timber. It’s also about managing stands for wildlife, water, recreation, aesthetics, or any combination of these objectives.

Why Cultivate Your Forest?

Like any crop, your trees need to be nurtured and cultivated in order to produce to their full potential. Left alone, your forest will grow to the limits of the available light, soil nutrients and water.  By tending the forest you can select and shape the crops it produces and improve the quality, growth and value of the trees on your woodland.

As a woodland manager, you have some 
choice in the form your forest takes, including tree species, size, distribution and even the rate at which they grow.

Cultivating your forest is a way of shaping it to meet your management goals.

What Is Stand Tending?

Stand tending is the process of modifying your woodland vegetation to improve tree growth and the quality and value of the timber products produced. By improving the vigour and health of stands, stand tending produces a merchantable crop of trees in a shorter time frame than if the stand were left to grow unmanaged.

Stand tending treatments include:

  • Brushing
  • Juvenile spacing
  • Conifer release
  • Thinning
  • Sanitation cutting
  • Fertilization
  • Pruning

Each treatment is carried out at a different phase in the growth cycle of a stand to improve timber value and production, as well as to maintain biodiversity.

Stand tending is a way to improve the value of your trees, but it’s also an opportunity to understand the forces at work in your forest. You need to know the conditions under which each treatment is desirable, the methods of each treatment and the effect each treatment has on the well-being and productivity of your woodland.

The objectives of stand tending are to:

  • Control the species composition of the stand to achieve landowner objectives from the site.
  • Control the stand density throughout the life of the stand to achieve the greatest productivity.
  • Maintain or enhance stand-level biodiversity and wildlife habitat.
  • Reduce the losses to insects, disease and fire.
  • Reduce the loss of merchantable trees that die from competition.

Your objectives may also include creating openings for forage production, improving access to your woodland, or improving its aesthetic appeal and property value.

When To Tend Your Stand?

Stand tending treatments are designed to speed up, stop or reverse the natural successional development of your woodland. This enables you to manage for a particular species, create a more valuable product, maintain biodiversity, enhance wildlife habitat or achieve your management goals (e.g., stand type, tree size) in a shorter time.

To develop a stand tending program for your woodland you should recognize when different treatments are needed to improve the growth and well-being of your stands. Evidence of stress and stagnation from competition in your stands can be important signposts to tell you when your trees need help.

Once you’ve identified the need for treatment, you need to decide how to go about it. The appropriate timing and methods of individual stand tending activities will depend on the conditions within each stand and the fertility of each site.

In general, it’s good practice to rank your stand treatments to treat the best sites first, since these are the areas that have the greatest potential to respond. The exception to this rule is the fertilization of stands that are lacking in specific nutrients and whose growth is limited as a result.

Thanks again to the creators of Managing Your Woodland: A Non-forester’s Guide to Small-scale Forestry in British Columbia for the information we’ve excerpted above.

Keep on the look out for future posts outlining the specifics of stand tending treatments—brushing, spacing, thinning, fertilizing and more. If you can’t wait, the complete resource is available online.

Thanks also to the Resource Practices Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations for the use of the silvicultural systems diagram. Here’s the link to the complete Introduction to Silvicultural Systems resource.