Planting Hardwoods for Today’s Timber Markets
Today’s timber markets in some regions of the Southeast have left some landowners asking: “Should I replant with pine or hardwood, or even replant at all?” As a landowner, I can certainly relate to the frustrations some landowners face. As a forester, I have been taught that if you cut a mature tree or have a timber sale, you should replant with pine. For the most part, this is true. After all, Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) is an “elastic” species, meaning it can be planted on a wide variety of sites and do well. Given the current price, landowners are receiving specific products. However, more and more are considering planting and managing hardwood forests.
Regenerating or starting a hardwood stand is very different from regenerating pines. Loblolly Pine is an early successional species, meaning it will be one of the first species to seed in and begin to grow on a site. This is primarily due to how pine seed is dispersed from the mother tree. Pine seeds have a wing and are spread by the wind, potentially traveling for miles once released from the cone. Some hardwood species use the wind to disperse their seed (Ash, Red Maple, etc.); however, oaks do not. Therefore at times, we must look to man-made regeneration techniques and management to establish hardwood forests.
Is Growing Hardwood Profitable?
Growing a desirable species such as hardwoods for a return on an investment is a feasible objective for many timber markets. Based on TimberMart South’s 2nd quarterly price report, hardwood pulpwood is bringing landowners more than pine chip-n-saw in some areas of the Southeast and almost double in some micro markets. This demand for hardwood can be attributed to multiple factors, the supply being one and local manufacturing needs the other. Specialty markets such as barrels from white oak logs for aging whiskey are generating great demand and high prices for landowners. Other reasons landowners look to hardwoods are aesthetics, recreation, hunting, wetlands mitigation, reclamation and timber portfolio diversification.
Specific management techniques need to be considered by landowners interested in planting hardwoods. Managing for grade hardwood timber has little to no similarities to managing pine sawlogs or poles. Most site preparation chemicals were designed to kill competing hardwoods from pine plantations. Also, most hardwood species are more site-specific than pines, and very few hardwood species are as elastic as pine. However, American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is one hardwood. The old saying was: “if you want to grow Sweetgum, plant pine,” and there is a lot of truth to that statement. For the most part, Sweetgum will display similar growth rates on the same sites as Loblolly. Also, Sweetgum is one of the more desirable species for hardwood pulpwood, along with other products such as tie logs, industrial mats, and furniture manufacturing. Other hardwood species that are also desirable for these products but are more site-specific are Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) and Sycamore (Plantanus occidentalis).
Lumber from oaks are also used for the afore-mentioned products, but in most cases oaks are valued for their lumber. Oak lumber must meet certain quality grades for higher-end products. In order to produce these higher-end products, the trees must naturally prune their lower limbs to limit defects in the lumber. Sweetgum, Yellow Poplar, and Sycamore all make excellent trees to interplant with oaks to encourage this natural pruning. By planting a mixture of these species in a plantation setting, a landowner can carefully thin the faster-growing hardwood species from the stand at mid-rotation and then allow the quality, higher valued species to grow on to maturity.
Cost-share programs such as the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP), Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP), and others are available through your local NRCS office and/or your state Forestry Commission. If you would like for someone to visit with you for a free consultation on hardwood management or any forestry topic, please contact your ArborGen Reforestation Advisor.
Article by J. Paul Jeffreys, Ph.D, ArborGen Reforestation Advisor
Western Tennessee, Northern Alabama & Mississippi
Site Preparation for Pine Plantations…an overview
Did you know that site prep is “The Gift That Keeps On Giving”? Silviculture research shows that site preparation has a rotation-long effect on stand productivity. The effect can be good or bad depending on how well the site preparation is planned and completed.
- Coupled with good genetics, proper site preparation will launch a young stand of trees on a trajectory to high levels of growth, yield and log quality.
- Stands planted following inadequate site prep may have poor survival and will never catch up to trees growing on properly treated sites even with remedial weed control and fertilization.
What is the purpose of site prep??? Here are some guidelines to help you.
Site Prep addresses the factors that will affect your future forest’s initial survival and long term growth:
- Soil drainage: poorly-drained soils should be bedded to provide the oxygen roots need to grow and it will also improve planting success. Bedding should be completed well in advance of planting to give time for the beds to settle out which ensures that seedling roots are fully in contact with soil when planted. Rainfall can speed up the settling process so the amount time to wait before planting is also weather dependent.
- Soil tillage: rocky soils or those with compaction layers (e.g. pastures & farm fields) should be ripped or bedded to foster root development, initial survival and long term growth.
- Competing Vegetation: Controlling competition for pines is one the most important steps a landowner takes to ensure the productivity of their forest. Forestry herbicides can control competing vegetation and costs less now compared to 20 years ago. Herbicide distribution/ application companies and many forestry consultants can provide appropriate prescriptions for your sites but should address:
- Woody Vegetation: Hardwoods, natural pine and brush must be controlled in order for pines to grow and without control become progressively worse over time.
- Herbaceous Weeds: Grasses and broadleaf weeds are severe competitors with young pines but can be well-controlled via fall treatments tank mixes with chemical site prep or applied after planting for even better first season weed control.
- Nutrition: some soils, especially in the Coastal Plain are severely deficient in macro nutrients, especially phosphorus, and require fertilization at the time of planting. Also sites with high pH, such as the Black Belt soils of Alabama and Mississippi may preclude planting pines at all.
A wise forest manager once said: “the most expensive site prep treatment is the one that almost worked!” So get it right…talk to your forest consultant or ArborGen Reforestation Advisor to discuss the treatment needed for the issues on your land before the upcoming planting season.
Article by John Pait, VP Marketing & Business Development
Hardwood Customer Success Story: Ken Hoene
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