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Wranglerstar and his dying trees  RSS feed

 
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Hello,

Wranglerstar recently posted a video about his attempt to re-plant a large field with pine and fir. He suffered some serious losses.

I'm thinking pioneer trees could improve survival but I'm not familiar with the NW. Any advice for him?

 
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I noticed that he planted conifers out in the open. I see this a lot along highways, and there's always a lot of die off. Conifers usually come in after deciduous trees around here, and if they aren't in slight understory shade when they are little, they tend to dry out and die, especially in a summer like we just had.

I would suggest, instead of planting a whole bunch more firs and pines, first plant a bunch of alders or other similar tree
(Wranglerstar seems to be at a higher elevation than me, and so in slightly different ecozone, so alder may not work as well if he's subalpine). The alders like to grow in fast, and they fix nitrogen. After a few years of the alders growing, then plant your pines and firs in their understory. They should still be able to get enough light, and will soon grow taller and be able to take over. You could either let the alders grow and fall down in their natural cycle, or chop and drop them once the firs and pines get stabilized.

I would also look into what the plant succession was after Mount Saint Helen's erupted. Looking at this webpage, it looks like lupine and red alders were the first-succession plants after the eruptions, so red alder should hopefully work well in your area. Hopefully massive amounts of red alder can be obtained in the same way as the douglas fir and pine!
 
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Location: Helena, Montana, Zone 4A, semi-arid, cold, mountainous
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He tried to plant evergreens which thrive in a forest and thus fungal environment into a cleared meadow thus a mainly bacterial environment. He didn't introduce any beneficial fungi into his plantings. I don't believe he knows about the ability of the fungus to supply water to the trees in trade of the nutrients that the roots have gotten from the earth. It was sad to see all those trees die and all of that wasted work. He says he will replant until "the weather is right".
I wish he would learn that his trees would grow faster after inoculation since they could "mine" a much larger area with the help of the mycorrhizal fungii and that the interaction would "drought proof" his new plantings.
 
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Honestly as someone with a forestry degree (sure I studied in Northern Ontario), I would guess a large part of the die off is water related as he mentioned. Most conifers that I have dealt with are primary succession species, wanting to be the first plants growing in an area. A lot of that is due to the fact that they are evolved to deal with fire. The fire burns all the competition and then the seeds of the conifers will drop and start the next generation.

A couple considerations are if this has been pasture for a long time, the ground may not be as acidic as the Conifers are used to (pine needles make the ground acid). Even there the fire/ash neutralize that acidity. Something that he could try next time is to burn a portion of the pasture (where there are no remaining trees) and see if that changes the conditions. It will warm the soil a bit more and release more nutrients which could help the trees get going quicker.

That said I can't remember how Douglas Fir grows/reproduces. But I can't say that I would have done anything different. Make sure the roots are in strait, dirt pressed in good and tight. After that it is up to God and the amount of rain that will determine if the trees survive.
 
Mark Roeder
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Thanks for your reply Bernard. Again, it comes back to helping make the trees more drought resistant with the aide of mycorrhizal fungi. The soil acidity perspective is interesting. My idea is that the alkalinity is coming from the ash, not the removal of the pine needles as they are neutral and have no effect on soil ph. (Only fresh pine needles are acidic) This is a myth that keeps being retold. Our friend Steve at Alberta Urban Garden explains why pine needles do not acidify your soil.

My favorite saying is that you shouldn't let your education interfere with your knowledge. Knowledge is constantly expanding. I really don't know that the forestry industry and their schools go very far into soil biology. Maybe they do and if so I apologize.
I believe Cody said that his friend who is a professional forester had very low survival rates as well. This is what led me to the thought that the industry doesn't inoculate the young seedlings.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Bernard Welm wrote:Honestly as someone with a forestry degree (sure I studied in Northern Ontario), I would guess a large part of the die off is water related as he mentioned. Most conifers that I have dealt with are primary succession species, wanting to be the first plants growing in an area. A lot of that is due to the fact that they are evolved to deal with fire. The fire burns all the competition and then the seeds of the conifers will drop and start the next generation.

A couple considerations are if this has been pasture for a long time, the ground may not be as acidic as the Conifers are used to (pine needles make the ground acid). Even there the fire/ash neutralize that acidity. Something that he could try next time is to burn a portion of the pasture (where there are no remaining trees) and see if that changes the conditions. It will warm the soil a bit more and release more nutrients which could help the trees get going quicker.

That said I can't remember how Douglas Fir grows/reproduces. But I can't say that I would have done anything different. Make sure the roots are in strait, dirt pressed in good and tight. After that it is up to God and the amount of rain that will determine if the trees survive.



I think the succession must be different in your area. I'm not really familiar at all with how plants grow east of our mountains. I'm pretty sure that it's a whole lot different just over our Cascadian mountain range than it is here on the western side. Pines are, I think, a lot more drought/sun tolerant--but I'm not too familiar with them!

Here's on the western half of the cascade range, the deciduous trees (namely alder) and shrubs come first, followed by the douglas firs, and culminating with hemlocks that grow in almost pure shade. I found a good basic summary of our succession here in the pacific northwest, from Portland State University:

Successional stages can be roughly categorized as “early”, “mid”, and “late” succession. In the early stages of succession, disturbed areas are quickly colonized by “pioneer” plant species. These pioneer plant species thrive in disturbed areas, are fast-growing species, typically prefer an open and sunny environment, or like a bare, exposed soil in which to germinate. For example in Oregon, fireweed (scientific name = Epilobium angustifolium), wood groundsel (Senecio sylvaticus), and red alder (Alnus rubra) are typical early-successional species that establish quickly in openings in Pacific Northwest forests, and set the stage for the arrival of other pioneer shrubs and trees such as salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), Pacific rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum), snowbrush (Ceanothus velutinus), and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Gradually, shrub and tree pioneers change the environment by reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the forest floor, reducing the amount of soil moisture during critical times of the year, and altering the nutrient cycling regime.

By the mid successional stages, the forest is dominated mostly by well-developed full-canopied trees, numerous shrub species, and a somewhat diverse developing plant understory. The conditions created by the pioneer species encourage and favor the growth of Douglas-fir. This tree species, which along with Red Alder germinates readily in mineral soil following fire, can survive for many centuries and is present in the early to late-successional stages, but dominates in the mid-successional stages.

Late-successional stages are characterized by the dominance of multi-aged and sized tree species, a well developed shrub and small tree layer, and a well developed understory with shade-tolerant species. Potentially, Douglas-fir forests can be replaced by the more shade-tolerant Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), which is the climax species in lower elevations of the Western Cascades. “Climax” communities represent the end of the line, so to speak, in the succession of a particular forest type. Cyclical patterns of disturbance maintain the dynamic process of succession. Climax forests are characterized by species which can reproduce in the shade of their own kind, and so are dominated by species that are well adapted to shade. These species can occupy the forest indefinitely until the next major disturbance.



It looks like the Douglas Fir seeds do germinate after a fire, but so do the alders. The alders, growing faster, likely help provide the slight shade and nutrients that the Douglas Fir needs. From reading this, it looks like if one plants alders along side the firs, they should be able to tolerate the sun/lack of water while they get stabilized.

I found another site by the University of California outlining how to grow Douglas Firs, and they mention that:

First year seedlings, especially those on dry sites, actually survive and grow best in light shade, although older seedlings require full sun. Lack of summer moisture triggers young seedlings to go dormant until the following spring.

Full shade and moisture competition caused by competing vegetation such as understory hardwoods, woody shrubs, and grasses can kill Douglas-fir seedlings. Many of these plants grow much more quickly on disturbed sites than young Douglas-fir trees. This results in difficulties regenerating the species without weed control. Fire also will favor Douglas-fir by destroying other species that would compete with and outgrow young seedlings.



So, it looks like they need some shade, but not much competing vegitation. I found a study by the Department of Agriculture that shows them planting alders along side the firs, and then chopping them when they were 7 years old (at the same time that they thinned the Douglas Firs). I haven't had the time to read the whole study, but Wranglerstar might find it useful: http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/pnw_rp366.pdf.
 
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Thanks for all of the great information. We did plant over 800 trees and it's surprising where the mix of pines and dougs survived. We attempted to plant the dougs were there was more water since the pines tolerate less water here. The amount of shade and water did not seem to affect the survival rate. We were shocked. We did plant immediately after we received them, on a shady day, and it rained the few days following planting. We had severe drought here. We did hand water the cedars we planted and those also suffered an approx. 40% death rate. We did speak with the local conservation district and a forester from the local state agency prior to planting. As you can imagine - we received very varied instructions. MrsW
 
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The alder that begin a succession here, are the primary source of nitrogen. Commercial forests planted only to conifers in the past, run out of nitrogen and growth continues very slowly, even when weather conditions are ideal. So, even if it is possible to skip a step in the succession, short term gain comes at the cost of long term problems. Modern practice calls for 200 or more alder per acre.

Young hardwoods come on fast, and force the evergreens to reach for the sun. In the long run, this produces better timber, with straight trunks and very little lower branching.
 
W. Star
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So interesting. Thank you. I've not seen any alders here. We have aspens, vine maples, some wild cherry...domesticated apple, cherry, and maples seem to do well. Zone 3 here.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Are you east or west of the Cascades? I think I see Mount Raineir in one of your videos, so I'm thinking you're more southern, wa? I'm thinking that if red alders seeded after Mount Saint Helen's blew, and that's a pretty high elevation, they should work where you're at. I'm trying--and failing-to find my college notes on Wa ecoregions and successional plants in each...
 
W. Star
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Just looked it up and does look like alders should work here. So 200 per acre - we have lack of ability to water in most areas. I'll have to look into this more. Particularly in the areas where the trees don't already receive shading.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I hope they work for you! We have a LOT of alders growing on our property. And, while they clearly love the wetter areas better, I've got some growing in a four foot tall mound of gravel that the previous owner of our land put down. I've got to assume that that's some dry land, and they are doing well. I'm pretty sure they self-seeded there, too. But, we do get a lot of rain here, so our climate is a little different than yours...

When I was thinking about your situation, I was reminded of a resource I ran across recently. The USGS has a soil survey that you can look up your property on and see what type of soils are there. They also list what type of plants typically grow there. http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/HomePage.htm. Maybe if you look up the soil of the meadow, it will give you some insight into what plants can help support your firs and pines.

 
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Yes, we've been to that site quite a bit. It's so very useful. thanks for putting it out there for others to check out as well. Our soil is Dry. Not wet. Not great for alders. No source for irrigating there (within our budget, etc). Doesn't mean we can't roll the dice....plus the history of overgrazing and pesticides from crops have depleted the soil.
 
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Another approach is to recognize that your land is just tougher on new trees. If you need 200 to survive, plant 600...

Alder seed is available very very inexpensively. Maybe sprout your own seedlings at $20 per thousand seeds, and get 500 little trees...

I'm thinking under 50 bucks for 1-5,000 seeds.

 
W. Star
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We can afford that!
 
Dale Hodgins
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Autumn olives are a nitrogen producer that may be suited to your harsh conditions. They can be eaten and branches used as forage. With a maximum height of 25 ft or so, they would eventually be shaded out by the evergreens.
 
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