AUSABLE WATER WISE: Thinking about spring tree planting

Ausable River Association staff plant trees to build a stream buffer along the East Branch of the AuSable River. (Provided photo — Ausable River Association)

With snow still blanketing the ground in many areas, spring tree planting is probably not the first thing on your mind. At the Ausable River Association, winter gives us time to plan for the year ahead. We are already thinking about spring, specifically spring riparian tree plantings.

It is important to start planning for tree and shrub plantings early because it’s time to place tree orders at local nurseries now. Regional nurseries have a hard time meeting the demand for trees and shrubs and often sell out of popular species long before spring. To ensure that you get the species you want, you must get your order in early. When planning your planting project, think about sourcing planting material as locally as possible. Native trees, shrubs and flowering plants are adapted to local microclimates. Plants with locally adapted genetics are therefore more suitable for and successful in local planting projects. Check availability at local nurseries before looking to order from catalogs or distant nurseries. We usually order from the Intervale Conservation Nursery and the state DEC Saratoga Nursery.

Before you place your order, decide what species you need for your planting. The best first step is to confirm that the types, or species of trees you order are native and appropriate to the area you are planting. Just as you wouldn’t try to grow a lemon tree in the North Country, it’s not wise to plant a cedar tree in a dry sunny field. Take a little time to research and it will pay off. The species you need will vary depending on the location and local environment of the planting. Look at the native species that are already established in the area. This will inform your choice of which species to plant and provide your best chance of success. Much of our tree planting work at the Ausable River Association is on streambanks. We look for species that have strong roots to stabilize the soil on streambanks, can survive areas of high moisture and can withstand disturbance from ice and high water. The key shrubs we plant include red-osier dogwood, silky willow and speckled alder.

Nurseries grow trees using a few different methods so you can order the same species in containers, as root balls, bareroot or as a live stake.

A container tree is just as it sounds, a tree grown and delivered in a container.

Root ball trees have their roots and surrounding soil wrapped in burlap. Container and root ball trees can often be bought larger than bareroot trees and are generally used when only planting a few trees.

Bareroot trees are grown in a field, then pulled out of the ground and transported by keeping the roots moist in a bag. They are ready to be stuck right in the ground. These are less expensive than container trees because they are easier to grow and transport but be aware that they must be planted right away.

Live stakes are cuttings from dormant trees that are planted directly into the ground. Because they have no leaves, all the tree’s energy will go into producing a strong root system before growing upwards. Live stakes are only a viable planting method for certain species including willows, dogwoods, and alders.

Choosing the type of planting can depend on cost, availability for specific species, timing and soil type. At the Ausable River Association, we often plant a combination of bareroot and live stake trees.

After planting the trees, your job isn’t quite done. During your time of planning for plantings, consider the aftercare you will provide for the trees and shrubs. The first few weeks and months after planting, trees are at their most vulnerable. It is important to provide care for trees during this time to improve survival. We usually mulch in a donut shape around the tree and give them plenty of water. The mulch helps store water for the tree after rain events or after watering. The precipitation levels following a planting will often determine the amount of aftercare needed. Hot and dry conditions will require watering while wet conditions will not require as much follow up care. For smaller trees that are vulnerable to deer browse, especially maples and oaks, tree tubes can help to protect the trees and boost their level of success. Larger trees may need support stakes and rope to help them grow straight.

Making a planting plan now will ensure you have the proper trees and supplies when it comes time to plant and give your trees and shrubs the best chance for survival. If you are new to tree planting, we’d love to have you join the Ausable River Association for one of our tree planting days this year. Learn more on the events page of our website, ausableriver.org/events.

(Liz Metzger is a research associate at the Ausable River Association.)

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