Plant Seedlings Early for Best Survival and Maximum First-Year Growth
The average planting season for loblolly pine tree bareroot seedlings runs from November to March (dormant season). The planting window for containerized seedlings can be a little longer on either side of that window if the soil surface and moisture conditions are right. ArborGen customers plant seedlings throughout this window, with most planting in January and February. It is encouraging to see that 17 percent plant earlier in November and December; however it is concerning that 18 percent have planted in March and April, which is later than the desirable time of planting in regards to seedling growth rate and first-year survival.
Phillip Wakely (US Forest Service author of Planting the Southern Pines, 1954) recommended: “Throughout most of the lower South, the optimum planting season extends from about December 1 to March 1.” (Figure 2). Other scientists have repeated these results many times over the years since this foundational research was published. So why does planting earlier improve survival and growth?
Planting bareroot seedlings early (December to February) provides better survival rates for most pine species, given the seedling has a head start to grow new roots and get established before the onset of new top growth in the spring. A bareroot pine seedling takes 4 to 6 weeks to grow new roots after transplanting if ideal soil moisture is present. Trees planted in December to mid-February have plenty of time to grow new roots before spring flush. Later planting may not provide seedlings the time they need to develop new roots before the shoots start growing and temperatures increase. No new roots mean poor water and nutrient uptake and can result in seedling dieback or mortality as the stresses of summer heat and dry periods arrive.
So to ensure good survival and the best possible first-year growth for your new seedlings, start planning now to get your seedlings planted adequately from December to February. Ensure your mechanical and chemical site prep is done well in advance to give beds time to settle and time for site prep chemicals to do their job. Call your tree planter or consultant and let them know you want to plant your seedlings early so they can get the crews lined up to be on your site as soon as possible.
Avoid planting in March if possible, but if you must, take extra care in seedling, refrigeration, and handling, and closely monitor planting operations.
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What’s Happening in the Field
It’s that time of year when we’re busy harvesting pine cones for next year’s crop of the very best Loblolly Pine available. Watch this video to see our team getting it done.
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