2019-03-16 / Outdoors


Plant a tree; now is the time

This coming week marks the start of spring. Besides its astrological significance of equal hours of daylight and dark, spring holds a special significance to outdoors enthusiasts.

It signifies the approach of trout season. Soon after that, hunters will be able to rise before dawn in pursuit of turkeys.

While there are a number of potential projects on our spring “to do” lists, none could be as beneficial as planting trees.

An investment in fruit- and nut-producing trees, such as chestnut and apple, could increase fall wildlife sightings tenfold. Similarly, cover can be created in the understory of mature open woods by planting evergreen trees.

Furthermore, nothing could be more beneficial to any trout stream that runs through your property than planting trees along its course. They will prevent erosion; keep water temperatures lower and dissolved oxygen levels higher by shading the stream, and fuel the stream’s food web with the leaves that they drop in the fall.

One of the worst things a landowner can do is to cut down adjacent forests or mow large lengths of stream bank, preventing trees from growing along that stretch.

Every small portion of a stream denuded of trees causes the water temperature to rise a fraction of a degree. Cumulatively, this can spell death for trout living in borderline temperature areas farther downstream.

When planting trees, there are several things to consider. The most important is soil.

Unless the tree is specifically suited to wetland conditions (such as alders and willows), the soil should not be saturated. Low areas that exhibit wetland vegetation and have a sulfur smell when you dig into them are not suitable for most tree species.

Almost as important is light. Most fruit and nut trees planted in the shade of other trees will never grow to bear fruit during their planter’s lifetime. Even slower mast-producing trees such as oaks can sometimes begin producing around ten years of age when they are planted in areas where they will receive plenty of sunlight.

You need to protect seedlings from browsing deer and elk, gnawing rodents, and competing vegetation such as tall, thick stands of grass. Investing in tree tubes or fencing and keeping the weeds cut in a radius around the seedlings is essential for the survival of most species of tree seedlings, especially early in their establishment.

There are many good nurseries from which to buy trees. Most of them have an online presence. For the price, you can’t beat the Pa. Game Commission’s Howard Nursery.

If money is a concern, take a small area of your garden and plant apple and chestnut tree seeds to start your own little nursery. Any apple is a good apple for wildlife, but if you want a named variety, graft that variety onto the seedling at the start of its second or third growing season. You could literally save yourself hundreds of dollars by growing these trees yourself.

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