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How to plant and manage a woodlot


Forest management

Forest areas offer opportunities for recreation, attracting wildlife, providing firewood and harvesting timber. How you manage your forested land depends on your desired goals, soil type and region. With careful planning, you can successfully establish and maintain a forest or woodlot that will meet many or all of your goals.

A forest of mixed hardwoodsPlanting trees to encourage wildlife

Landowners should remember three key strategies when planting trees that will attract wildlife, according to Cornell University Cooperative Extension and USDA experts.

  1. Plant a variety of trees and shrubs.
  2. Plant in a way that resembles varied, natural vegetation patterns.
  3. Plant native trees.

Prior to planting, you may need to prepare your site by mowing, applying an herbicide or using another method to clear grasses and weeds that will compete with young seedlings. When planting, plan for variation in borders, mature tree heights and the density of growth. If you have multiple wooded areas, connect them by planting corridors of vegetation that will provide shelter for roaming wildlife.

Using a wide variety of tree species will help attract a variety of wildlife. Plant seedlings approximately 6 to 8 feet apart and shrubs 4 to 6 feet apart but vary the spacing and leave gaps to allow wildlife access to shelter. Using native trees ensures local wildlife will be well-suited to the habitat you are creating and will help avoid problems with invasive species.

Consult local resources to choose tree species that will be suitable for your growing conditions and attract the type of wildlife you desire. Remember, it may take several years before trees are mature enough to attract permanent residents, but wildlife may take up temporary residence as soon as some cover exists.

Forest management for white-tail deer

Recommended tree species for white-tail deer include white pine, white cedar, balsam fir, aspen, beech, maple and oak.

According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, an ideal woodlot for deer will include:

  • Cleared areas, which provide protein-rich ground forage
  • Areas of young trees and shrubs, which provide cover
  • Mature hardwood forest, which produces starchy nuts such as acorns

To intensively manage a permanent population, you may need to coordinate with nearby landowners. A single buck requires a range of at least 2 square miles, especially during mating season.

Forest management for wild turkeys

Like deer, wild turkeys thrive in mature forests that produce abundant amounts of food. White cedar, white pine, beech, maple and, especially, the acorn-producing oak are among tree species favorable to turkey habitat.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension has found turkeys to thrive in pine forest and near agricultural areas, provided that suitable stands of mature hardwoods are preserved nearby. Turkeys need to range over several miles and have access to forage in cleared areas to raise their broods.

Planning for timber harvest

Planting a woodlot primarily for timber production is somewhat different than planting solely to attract wildlife, although with careful planning you can manage your forest for both purposes. If you plan to allow commercial logging, you should secure the services of a professional forester to ensure proper site planning and long-term economic success. It may be 20 years before you harvest mature pine trees or even up to 50 years for some varieties of hardwoods.

According Cornell forestry specialists, you should plant your seedlings at a rate of 700 to 1,100 per acre, or about 6 feet apart on rows of 8 to 10 feet. Weeds can be a problem for young trees; protect seedlings with herbicides, hand weeding, mowing, power tilling, weed mats and/or mulch. Prevent rodent and deer damage with repellents or physical barriers such as fencing, netting, tree tubes or tree wraps. You may also need to use slow-release fertilizer pellets to supply nutrients.

Another, often more successful, method to consider when establishing a stand is to allow for natural regeneration, which allows trees growing naturally in an area to reproduce. By culling out unwanted trees over time, the landowner is eventually left with a forest of the desired species.

Thinning programs involve removing trees at prescribed intervals or removing diseased or weak trees. According to experts in the department of forestry at Virginia Tech, systematic thinnings are usually recommended in pine forests when the trees are approximately 15 years old and from ages 30 to 40 in hardwood forests. The North Carolina Cooperative Extension says thinning stands between the ages of 20 and 60 years old can supply half a cord per acre of firewood each year.

When it comes to harvesting, the Virginia Extension says a rule of thumb for timber cuts is that the units must be at least 25 acres to be economically viable, although in the case of selling firewood, landowners may find it profitable to make smaller cuts of approximately 5 acres.

Remember, if you are inexperienced in a certain procedure, always contact a professional forester or a state forestry agency for guidance.

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