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establishing many pioneers trees without irrigation

 
Andrew Schreiber
Posts: 216
Location: Zone 6a, Wahkiacus, WA
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Hi all,

I am in a cold semi-arid site in central washington. zone 5-6 20 inches of precip, mostly falling as snow and early spring rain. 6-7 month dry season. very windy.

Trying to get mass plantings of hardy pioneers up over 20+ acres. I have been working with Mark Sheppherd's strategy of starting gobs of things from seed in situ.

We simply do not have the water to irrigate the trees, and I am strategizing about what more I can do to help these little guys out that is simple and natural.

two years ago planted out 500+ very young black and honey locusts. At this point I have about 10 trees still alive, and not particularly growing much. very happy to have those ten trees! but it was a ridiculous amount of work with such a small success rate.

I would love to hear other peoples experience mass planting trees in very hot dry conditions, and in cold-temperate zones where most of the desert species are not hardy enough to survive winter.

 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1592
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Take a look at the groasis system. The items are moderately expensive but cut down massively on labour costs to irrigate and maintain the plantings.
 
allen lumley
pollinator
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Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
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Andrew S. : I am watching developments within the Groasis boxx and the Groasis vegetables with interest, My local region, Mid-Atlantic, U.S.A.

is not noted for dry conditions. However this system has much to recommend itself for drier areas and I agree with Michael Cox that this system

needs local research in many different climates and parts of the World ! For the Good of the Crafts. Big AL
 
Rose Pinder
Posts: 408
Location: Otago, New Zealand
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What is Mark Shepard's system?

I live in a summer hot, winter cold, dry climate with significant wind drying on top of that. I've seen what you describe so many times here, where people plant out mass amounts of trees and lose many.

What I observe with the natural systems is that plants generally don't grow on their own. When one establishes, other plants grow under and around it. They are often at the bottom of slopes or in places where the water will pool for a while (not long in this free draining soil). To me these things are critical, along with mulch to protect from the wind drying everything out. So from that I would look at planting communities of plants and using established plants to create micro climate and shelter for the next ones. Perhaps plant ten trees in mulch pits rather than 100 on bare ground, and when those trees are established, use their environment to plant more.

I would also look at creating micro climates/shelter with inanimate things (mounds, rocks, dead trees, even pallets or other resilient rubbish). Hugelculture buried instead of mounded might be worth a try too given you have such long periods of no rain. But most of my ideas are coming from my landbase, whereas the land you are on will be saying some things about what works there.

Is there a reason you need to plant mass trees all in one go? What are the trees for? (food, shelter, timber?) Can you redesign around what you have learned doesn't work and what works naturally? I think non-irrigated ecosystem restoration is going to be critical in the coming decades.



 
S Bengi
Posts: 1356
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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You need to do some earthworks on contour. Give your planting at least twice the recommended spacing. Planting 500 seeds and having 10 of them survive sounds like a good ratio. A lot of farmers plant 25 pound of seed per acre on good soil. You will have to probably do 50lbs of seeds per acre.
 
Rose Pinder
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It was 500 young trees (not seeds) to 10 surviving.
 
Michael Bushman
Posts: 144
Location: Sacramento, CA
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Imagine plantingg 20 but actually working on helping those 20 survive...less work overall but more focused.

Swales help but also require work.

I would look at your area and choose the most viable area. Plan out a smaller area and plant those 20 trees on the perimeter and work inward and get that going and then repeat.

Nature plants thousands of seeds only to see a tiny handful mature.
 
Rose Pinder
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Location: Otago, New Zealand
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Michael Bushman wrote:I would look at your area and choose the most viable area. Plan out a smaller area and plant those 20 trees on the perimeter and work inward and get that going and then repeat.


What's the thinking behind that Michael? (I'd pick the most viable spot and work outwards)
 
James Everett
Posts: 76
Location: Gaines County, Texas South of Seminole, Tx zone 7b
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if you already have some trees on your land that are producing trees gather up 100+ seeds from the different varieties on it that you have. look around from those trees and find a middle ground from that still bare to grassy spot and that tree and find a good spot that seem a little moist it this dry part of the summer. Come September start planting all the seeds around the land. I did that with some of the Mesquite and Little walnut trees on my land sine they seem to do well in in Medium Loam to Solid Caliche soils over the course of two years my land has several trees now of those two alone. as time comes I will chop some of them down to plant more variety but each year I just keep repeating this on my 30 acres and both cover crops and trees seem to do fine and also the water absorbing in the organic matter from the ones that do no make it and the leaves is helping me cover more ground. Until I ran across the permies site this is what I was doing is yearly seeding and gathering. free seeds from any tree I see growing in the county I pick up since most probably grew on their own anyhow. Though you still see many die off you still get some to grow which is a plus and free this way. But now I found this I may add more to the method with a rock retainer and mulching around it to help retain more water longer. since my land up above the draw is roughly a 10ft drop from the NW corner of my land down to my house over 500ft + in area really gentle to flat slope for the most part.
 
Steve Farmer
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Location: South Tenerife, Canary Islands (Spain)
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What did the 490 trees die of?
If you plant another 500 in exactly the same way then in two years you will have another 20 trees.

However, more realistically, you know a lot more now than you did then about what survives so could have 100 survivors.

Your 10 trees prove that it is possible for young trees to grow and survive in this environment. It can only get easier from here. good work!

For the next 500 consider planting a variety of tree and non-tree species.

I plant inside 8 litre (~2 gallon) water bottles with bases and lids removed, mainly for protection from wildlife, but also aids with preserving humidity, but I do give a limited amount of water to young trees. 20 inches of precip per year would be fantastic but I'm not jealous of your snow.
 
Michael Bushman
Posts: 144
Location: Sacramento, CA
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Rose Pinder wrote:
Michael Bushman wrote:I would look at your area and choose the most viable area. Plan out a smaller area and plant those 20 trees on the perimeter and work inward and get that going and then repeat.


What's the thinking behind that Michael? (I'd pick the most viable spot and work outwards)



Two things tend to kill seedlings, lack of water and deer eating them. Trees lessen the evaporation through shade and mulch. Once established, they do fairly well and tend to be trouble free. So, from an area that seems to be doing well with established trees, plant at the fringes of that area. That does two things, provides a more concentrated area for you to focus your efforts, and the seedlings benefit from shade and thus cooler ground.

Pretend you have no trees, based on the size of half mature trees, plant your ten in a pattern. Then next year you plant ten more around that initial planting. At some point, the "circle" becomes too big and you simply start planting another circle somewhere else and start the process over. Starting in a smaller pattern allows you to water them and frankly, if it is arid enough, I might consider digging a one gallon or deeper hole and putting in potting soil then mulching around that as the tree goes. Another thought is to build small swales and center each new tree at the middle of the new swale but again, that only works if you have enough rain.

Broadcasting seeds works well in certain climates where there is year round moisture like the east coast, that works less well on the west coast, broadly speaking. Also do some research on what idea growing conditions are for the seeds you do plan on planting so you maximize the success.
 
Ann Torrence
steward
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How do you expect these trees will live without water in the long run? Is there subsurface water? Do you know where your water table is? What other trees are growing nearby in fallow areas? Anything? Russian olive? Cottonwoods? They indicate more water than juniper/pinon. That will give you a clue as to what can happen without irrigation and serious earthworks to create a subsurface water storage system. If not, I wouldn't expect much to grow on its own except maybe pinons and juniper/cedar. If there is subsurface water, you need to establish a beachhead and that's not going to happen without some help until they hit subterranean water. Our summer water table rises to less than 10 feet, so our goal is to get the trees established quickly and get them down to that water level. Here are some things we have observed that help conserve moisture so that there's less water hauling. And by that, I mean 10-20 gallons per tree every couple weeks.

1) plant in deep holes. We hire someone to auger 4 feet down. Why 4 feet? That's as deep as they can go. The theory is that the loose soil in the hole encourages the roots to go down fast.
2) plant the trees a little below grade. If you auger 4 feet deep, there will be some natural settling anyway. What happens is a little basin that holds moisture longer in the wind. And it captures blowing snow.
3) mycorrhizal root inoculation. Getting the fungal web started is critical, especially if planting in a grass (bacterial-based) environment.
4) chop and drop mowing for mulch. Or let the grasses shade the trees. Anything but bare earth.
5) winter water. An old timer told us to water Thanksgiving, Christmas and the first of March. I don't stop watering until the end of October. Dry roots don't tolerate soil freezes very well at all.
6) wind breaks. That's a chicken and egg problem, because you need water to start trees to make wind breaks. When we dug our irrigation retention pond, we used the dirt to make berms. If you are doing earthworks, think about using the fill somewhere useful.

Things I haven't tried but might help
7) air wells made from rocks you might have on the land
8 ) these Groasis things. I'd like to try a few in one place where I can't get the trailer. They are reusable, supposedly, so buying 25 and moving them around seems like a worthy trial. I'd still expect to haul some water, just not as often.

I personally hand watered over 300 trees last summer, hauling water in an IBC on a trailer because our irrigation system wasn't in place in time. I wouldn't recommend it. But it can be done. 10+ gallons every 11-12 days kept them going. 20 would have been better, but there weren't enough hours of my life to do that. Now that the irrigation system is in place, they are taking off. In our climate, there's no way around the fact that water is and always will be the rate limiting factor for what we can do.
 
William James
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Rose Pinder wrote:What is Mark Shepard's system?


Fwik, Cheap drip irrigation plastic strips attached to tanks that can be put on the back of a tractor or trailer for 2 years during deep drought situations, then nothing. Also keeping grass at bay by cutting a swath near the base of the tree lines.
William

ps: he says more or less the same in one of these videos, can't find which one but they all are worth watching.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PfM_QChTtY&list=PLSROquJIR4ccmj6j8UQiOotBxSDI9zNbS
 
Dan Boone
gardener
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Another approach is to abandon tree plantings entirely and plant tons of tree seeds instead, picking varieties of seeds that you can get cheaply in bulk (ideally by harvesting from other local trees) that seem to have a chance to self-establish in your biome. Then, of course, once you have tree cover, you can get away with trickier plantings of more-sensitive species.

There's a long thread here on Permies by a guy who is doing this in arid regions of Greece with apricot and almond seeds. It's fascinating reading.
 
William James
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I've been considering the machine-gun approach recently as well. It seems like it might the fastest and easiest way to get things going.
William
 
Denis Huel
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Andrew

I am also trying to mass plant a large number of trees in a cold dry climate, southern Saskatchewan, 14-15 inches of rain, zone 2b-4a?? (it is currently changing rapidly).

My initial plantings were made with seedlings I grew myself and consisted of chokecherries, saskatoon berries, bur oak, Russian Olive, Siberian larch and a variety of other species in small amounts.

My success rate at first was to say least was disappointing. Like you if I got 1 surviving tree for every 50 planted I was lucky. The culprits, drought and deer along with lack of weed control. With respect to weeds some were clearly more damaging than others, with the introduced grasses, crested wheatgrass and smoothbrome clearly the worst. Often grass combined with persistent deer browsing ultimately killed most of the trees and shrubs. Some survivors are now nearly 20 years old and still 2 ft high (oak, saskatoon). The one resounding success was Russian Olive which I suspect you are not allowed to plant. Deer do not browse Russian Olive and at least 75% of my initial plantings still survive and are growing well(20 ft high). If not for the initial success of the Russian Olive and some chokecherries I likely would have given up on my tree planting quest.

I don't have any experience out planting either black or honey locust although I currently have a couple of hundred honey locusts growing in my nursery that I will try next year. I have not yet read Mark's book so I don't have much to say on his strategy.

Fast forward 25 years. This spring I planted nearly 5000 thousand seedlings in early May, mainly pine(jack, red, Scots, Ponderosa), spruce (Colorado), bur oak, Russian Olive, Antonovka apple, black walnut( in a very good site) and silver maple. My area received no rain for two months after planting yet >95%survived and thanks to abundant rain in the last three weeks(nearly 10 in.!) I consider them for the most part established.

Why the difference from my early attempts?

Site. This year most of the trees were planted in an area that had been an organic lentil field last year. I chose areas that had the appropriate soil types and moderate weeds populations and lacked the worst weed types, the two grass species and other perennial weeds especially Canada thistle. Sites were relatively weed free at the time of planting and not too nutrient rich.

Seedling types. Most of the conifer seedling were purchased plug seedlings of very good quality (PRT). The deciduous seedlings were home grown 1 yr seedlings. The sturdy larger seedlings were clearly superior in initial growth than the smaller weaker ones. On difficult sites very small seedlings are too susceptible to drought, weeds, and lack sufficient reserves to recover from browsing. Too large a plant will have too much of the root system lost during lifting and will lack vigour in dry conditions.

Species. Match the species to site conditions and the level of care that the plants will receive. Difficult sites require species tolerant of those conditions, high deer populations require species that are not palatable to the deer or the trees need to be protected. Unfortunately most crop type trees and shrubs are palatable to deer. Russian Olive is not browsed, pine seedlings are browsed primarily when they are small or when new growth is succulent. Pines seem to be preferred for bucks for antler rubbing. Pines are very tolerant of summer heat and drought when established. My impression is that seedling apple trees are tougher than generally given credit for. My black walnuts(best) and butternuts are doing extremely well in my dry cold climate but are still quite young. In my climate oaks are iron clad tough but extremely slow growing in the early years, speeding up after the first decade. Seedlings plums are extremely tough and would like to try apricots on a larger scale if I can find the right seed source.

Planting time, as early as possible. At the time planting I took a couple of extra seconds to make sure that a small depression was left around each seedling to concentrate any rain around the seedlings and allow for watering in the future if required.

Weed control in addition to site choices. In contrast to generally accepted local practice I practice my own version of ABC of tree care, anything but cultivation. Cultivating large areas in between trees to control weeds is standard practice in my area but I believe this is very destructive because of its potential negative effect on soil qualities, fungal (mycorrhizal) populations and surface root development(can receive moisture from light rains). I will hand pull or cut weeds in a small area around each seedling and tolerate them farther away. Ultimately I will plant a non-competitive grass/legume ground cover(kentucky bluegrass and cicer milkvetch) and lightly graze.

Watering. Because of the dry conditions after planting this year I hand watered all seedlings planted this year and a few planted last year in the beginning of June. The small depression left at the time of planting allowed me to relative quickly give each seedling a litre(quart) of water. Without this watering I believe I would have lost the majority of my seedlings this year, however with the abundant rains of late I don't believe I will have to water them again, this year and future years.

Deer control. This has proved to be extremely difficult for me. Although the local deer population was reduced by likely 75% in a difficult winter 2 years ago, I live in a area surrounded by LARGE farming operations (10,000 acres+) where large high clearance sprayers and glyphosate has reduced biodiversity to disturbingly low levels. The deer appear to be so hungry for browse that virtually every single plant of a palatable species scattered over my several hundred acres will be browsed soon after planting and repeatedly thereafter if not protected. I have not used the browsing repellants because I do not have the time to reapply after rains. I use a combination tree tubes (oaks) and small cages made from poultry wire and avoid planting the very palatable species like apples near areas of cover. Once deer begin to browse a group of desirable plants they will return frequently. A small newly planted seedling may only survive a time or two before dying. Over the years that continued loss of leaves from browsing and competition from grasses and weeds will eventually weaken and eliminate even previously established trees and shrubs.

With tree planting accept your negative feedback if something does not work try something else, if it works....repeat!
 
Michael Cox
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Trees is difficult climates only usually establish from seeds when the climate conditions are favourable. This might be one year in 20 when there is above average rainfall, sufficient for seedlings to develop enough roots to reach ground water before the conditions kill them.

When we try and establish plantings on our own timescale we don't want to wait for that one in twenty season. This is why irrigation is usually used, or a groasis box might be considered.

If you use groasis you might get say 20 boxes, which lets you establish 20 trees per year then reuse them the following year.
 
Andrew Schreiber
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Location: Zone 6a, Wahkiacus, WA
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wow! what a great response. Thank you all for your thoughts. I'll try and answer peoples questions.

Mark shepherd's strategy was to plant loads of tree seeds (I think he uses a seed drill) and not do anything else. Those that survive have the appropriate genes for his area. He calls this method STUN Shear Total Utter Neglect. Just like mother nature.

I have seed many thousands of trees, none of which have survived as of yet. I was seeding black locust and Honey Locust from local "survivor trees" from abandoned homesteads. they germinate and grow, but die within several months.

How do you expect these trees will live without water in the long run? Is there subsurface water? Do you know where your water table is? What other trees are growing nearby in fallow areas? Anything?


We have a native forest on the land, just not on this particular piece of the property. I am working on contour to establish a 12 acre silvopasture system in what is now an open field with 15-20 year growth of Ponderosa Pine. So trees can and are growing there. I am trying to get ponderosa pine seeds to use them as pioneers, however I am finding it really difficult to get the seeds from the squirrels who eat the cones in mass before the seeds are fully ripe.

After the seeding failed completely, I started the the locust seeds in S10 Ray Leach cone-tainers . approximately 500-600 hundred. I then planted each of those trees out at in double rows, 6 foot intervals, across the uphill side of a 1,1000 ft long contour swale.

Planted each seedling in a hole 2-2.5 feet deep and about 1.5 ft across. mixed in decomposed manure 50% with the subsoil (about 2.5 gallons per hole), made a 2ft tree well around each tree, laid down a thick layer of straw mulch, and places cut pine branches on top of the mulch to hold it down and provide shelter to the young trees. Each tree also got a plastic mesh tree tube.

we get 25 inches of precip, which is adequate for dryland forest like out Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana) with the occasional hazel, serviceberry, oceanspray, scouler willow, black cottonwood, and choke cherry.

As far as the water table, This past spring I tried to propagate Scouler's willow (Salix scoulariana, aka upland willow) and poplar (Populus trichocarpa) from livestake cuttings along the downhill side of the same 1,100 ft contour swale mentioned above. Willows and Poplars were taken from very local trees (within 2 miles) that are growing in the surrounding forests (not in creeks and ravines, but in the upland forest). So they have some genetic capacity to survive in these conditions.

4 foot long live stakes driven 3 ft into the ground. 3 ft spacing across the length of the swale. All of the willow and poplars stakes grew well for 3-4 months, but have now lost all there leaves and are dead at least to the ground.

This leads me to believe the water table is lower than three feet at the height of summer.

What did the 490 trees die of?


Pretty sure the drying soil outpaced their root growth. no sign of any browsing, are leaf fungi. I suppose a disease or fungi could have gotten the roots, but it is hard to tell.

planting is clumps - Since I am working on contour to establish a pattern of contour alleycrop/hedgerows for pasture, I cannot go with a clump pattern..


Imagine plantingg 20 but actually working on helping those 20 survive...less work overall but more focused.


All our water surplus water going to a 10 year old food forest that is about 1 acre. these trees are getting something like 20 gallons a week each on a buried drip line, there is about 50 trees/shrubs in the system. even the supposedly hardy pioneers in this system die without irrigation. We have goumi, goji, seabuckthorn, black locust, honey locust, mongollian bush cherry which many people say will grow without irrigation, but those we left to fend for themselves have all died.

It is important to note that we have made many thousands of feet of massive contour hugelkultur beds (4 foot deep trenches, 2-4 ft tall above ground) in this system, and the trees still need water. After 10 years the trees are still small and stunted. The soils is really good, and relatively deep (4-6 inches of good top soil) I do not believe it is a lack of fertility, my sense is that there is too much sun and too deep a water table for easy establishment. we have planted trees in recent years specifically for shade (thornless honey locust) which are still young (4-6 ft tall) and not providing much shade at this point.

So we are also trying what you are suggesting, which is working (the plants are not dead) but is using up all the surplus irrigation water we can produce from our well.

-------
hoping that all this detail can maybe provide more fodder for what could be done differently.

 
Andrew Schreiber
Posts: 216
Location: Zone 6a, Wahkiacus, WA
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Here are links to two articles about this whole process, there are lots of pictures.

Live stake propagation:
http://permaculturenews.org/2015/05/07/live-stake-propagation/

Developing Windward's Silvopasture
http://windward.org/2.0/notes/2014/2014andrew06.htm
 
Bryan Elliott
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Location: Oklahoma Panhandle
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I used some of these tree tubes: www.treeprotectionsupply.com I just got the cheapest the tree pro I think. It made all the difference in the world, kept them from drying out in the wind and sun, kept the jack rabbits from cutting them off, and they grew a lot faster. A lot of places sell something similar, I just used those for an example. Next year I'll order tubes and then see how many trees I want.
 
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