Tree Planting And Maintenance Tips For Drought Years

Weed fabric, mulch and drop irrigation are some of the practices to insure survival.

Published on: Apr 8, 2013

Trees planted this year on the Plains will often run into less than ideal soil moisture conditions. Harsh planting conditions are nothing new for the region, but there are questions landowners should ask themselves before planting new windbreaks and farmstead trees.

According to Justin Evertson, Nebraska Forest Service greenspace infrastructure coordinator, how these questions are answered will determine the success of the planting.

•What are the soils like on the site?

•Can I plant on a downhill slope or near drainways where soil moisture will be more consistent?

•If I'm planting red cedar, will I be able to keep wild seedlings under control?

Justin Evertson
Justin Evertson

•Is there a water source available for drip irrigation?

•Do I want to plant species that support native wildlife and birds?

•Should I avoid species that could be invasive pests?

Evertson suggests following best management practices in rural tree plantings, to give seedlings a fighting chance against dry conditions. "Plant things close," he says. "Trees can be planted fairly close together and thinned later." He says that 10 to 15 feet apart is not too close. Most shrubs can be planted between five and 10 feet apart. Proximity provides protection.

"Weed fabric is important for those remote plantings that can't be cared for on a regular basis," he says. "Drip irrigation would be helpful for establishment. Mulch is always good and should be applied around each new plant, but keep it shallow, two to three inches deep." Evertson says that mulching cannot usually be maintained over long periods on remote plantings, but if plantings can be mulched during their establishment years, this practice gives seedlings a better shot at survival.

Dennis Adams, Nebraska Forest Service rural forestry program leader, suggests controlling perennial cool-season grass sod between trees and tree rows, as way to alleviate some competition for moisture for young trees where weed barrier hasn't been used. Adams says that there are locations where watering is not possible, so controlling the competing grasses could help.

Rodent and animal damage can also be a problem, according to Evertson. Caging and fencing individual trees is really the only way to avoid this kind of damage, and these practices aren't usually practical on a large scale.

"I've seen people have good luck using little wind or sun guards around new seedlings, such as two large wooden shingles, with one placed along the southwest and the other along the northwest to block drying winds and afternoon sun," Evertson says. Seedling tubes can also be effective.

If you'd like to learn more about rural tree plantings, contact Evertson at 402-472-5045 or Adams at 402-472-5822.