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Article #22, April 1999
By Bill Cook

            I believe it is still too soon to rule out a good snowstorm, but there’s no doubt that spring has arrived.  With this season, I get anxious about a few things.  The high water in the rivers makes my blood boil with paddle fever.  I love the roll and swell of a powerful current under my small boats.  Woodland spring flowers and the taste of leeks draw me into the forest.  And at the same time, there seems to be some innate urge to run my tools and fingers through freshly tilled earth.  This, of course, translates into tree planting as well as garden preparation. 

            Almost everyone likes to plant trees, even though it is a lot of work.  Most of the Soil Conservation Districts have taken in their 1999 tree seedling orders and are getting ready to distribute tens of thousands of trees.  If you intend to plant trees this spring, consider the following tips and ten most common ways to kill tree seedlings.

            Planting is only one step in the process of a successful tree establishment project.  The first step is to select the right tree species for the site.   Much sweat and many dollars have been squandered by poor species-site choices.  The second step is to properly prepare the site to be planted.  Competing vegetation commonly overwhelms young seedlings.  Old fields can be brutal, if not properly prepared.  Good nursery stock will go a long way in the favor of trees, but even the best may succumb to sod, or poor weather.  The third step is the actual planting, which requires proper technique.  Only a few minutes in sun and wind can kill exposed bare-root seedlings.  The last step has to do with caring for the trees until they are tall enough to reach above all the other vegetation in their vicinity.  This usually means the removal of brush or grass within the next few years.

            So, what are the ten common tree planting mistakes?  One, exposing the roots to too much sun or wind.  Five minutes lying on the ground or hanging out of your planting pouch can kill seedlings.  Two, temporary storage covers get blown away on planting day leaving roots exposed.  Three, seedlings bake under tarps or in bags from lying in the sun.  Remember, the shade of tree moves during the day!  Four, soil is not packed firmly enough around the roots.  Five, seedlings are planted too deep or too shallow.  Six, roots are bent up in the planting hole (J-rooting) or are not spread out well enough.  Seven, the second hole is not closed (poor planting bar technique).  Eight, more than one tree is planted per hole.  Nine, seedlings are planted in the duff and not into the mineral soil.  And ten, seedlings are not planted promptly and are poorly stored.  The trunk of a car can mean a quick death.  Bags or containers must be kept in a cool, shady place.  Seedlings can also be “heeled-in”, which means temporarily burying the roots of many seedlings in one hole, in a shady place, making sure there are no air pockets.  However, it’s best to plant as soon as possible.

            Now that the planting season is here, it might be a little late to do a good job of species selection and site preparation.  But with a little more work and a healthy dose of care, those seedlings can be planted with a reasonable chance of survival.  For answers to your questions, try calling your local Soil Conservation District or County Extension office.

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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at cookwi@msu.edu or 906-786-1575.

Prepared by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005 J Road, Escanaba, MI  49829
906-786-1575 (voice),  906-786-9370 (fax),  e-mail:  cookwi@msu.edu

Use / reprinting of these articles is encouraged. Please notify Bill Cook.
By-line should read "Bill Cook, MSU Extension" Please use the article trailer whenever possible.

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