Making (Tree) Babies

Joshua VanBrakle Wednesday, 08 May 2019

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As a landowner, few tasks are more important than making sure your woods have a future. Every tree in your woods today started as a tiny seed. It then grew into a seedling, a baby tree, and chased the light for decades to become the tall canopy trees you have today.

When the trees in your woods started, they had it easy. Back when they were kids, the northeastern US had fewer deer. The trees also had ample light, since they were usually growing in a recently abandoned farm field.

Times have changed. There are more deer in the US now than when Columbus sailed. Invasive plants dominate many forest floors. And the adult trees themselves can cast a heavy shade that prevents their young from rising to great heights.

You can be a good tree parent and help your young trees overcome these challenges. How? Two steps. First, you need to get those trees born. Second, you need to protect them from invasive plants and hungry deer.

To get new trees growing, you’ll need good parent trees and enough light for the seedlings to survive. Certain types of logging can help with this. In one method, called a shelterwood, loggers cut most of the smaller trees to give a lot of growing space to the biggest, healthiest trees. Those healthy trees become seed sources for the next generation. At the same time, the logging provides light at ground level for seedlings to grow. For tips on harvesting timber, check out our step-by-step activities that walk you through the process. Our activities for creating young forests are also good starting points.

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A shelterwood cut immediately after harvest in 2008 (top), and seven years later in 2015 (bottom). The owners used temporary fencing to protect the seedlings from deer browse.

Once you have baby trees, you may need to protect them. Controlling invasive plants may be required, especially if they’re present in large numbers. You may also need to use tree tubes or temporary fencing to keep hungry deer away from your babies. For more ways to reduce deer pressure in your woods, check out these activities.

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Tree tubes like these may be an option if you’re planting trees or just have a few natural seedlings to protect.

Like any parenting, raising healthy tree babies takes hard work and a lot of patience. It’s worth it though. The reward is that when you’re done, you’ll have given your woodlot the tools it needs to succeed far into the future.

 

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