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Forestry winter management tasks


Winter tends to be a bit more quiet on the farm. It is a great time to get jobs done in your forest. So, dependent on the age of your forest, here are some suggestions to work off all those Christmas puddings! Steven Meyen, Teagasc Forestry Development Department goes through the checklist

Caption above: Check your conifer trees in December to see if foliar samples need to be taken to establish nutrient requirements. Photo: Teagasc.

Winter management tasks – check list

  • Go for a walk
  • Maintain good access to and through your forest
  • Check tree stocking and replace dead trees where necessary
  • Check for nutrient deficiencies and take foliar samples if required
  • Check drainage and improve where necessary
  • Check fences and repair where necessary
  • Carry out formative shaping on broadleaves, especially oak
  • Mark potential crop trees
  • Carry out high pruning if/when appropriate
  • Cut inspection paths in your conifer plantation
  • Review your insurance cover 

Go for a walk

Take your dog for regular walks through your forest. By doing so, you'll know very soon what needs to be done. The sooner an issue is spotted, the easier it will be to sort it out. And if you're not too sure, ask your local Forestry Adviser. He or she will be more than happy to help.

And if you find that it is getting difficult to walk then it is a good idea to top pathways. Do this once a year.

Access equals management. No access, no management. Simple as that. 

Caption: Briars have made it impossible to walk through, assess and manage this young oak / Scots pine woodland. Photo: Teagasc.

Replace dead trees

Tree stocking density should be maintained as close to 100pc as possible to optimise future tree selection and quality timber production.

You can estimate this by using circular plots. Place a stake in the ground and tie an eight-metre tape or string to the stake. Tighten the tape and walk around in a full circle, while counting all live trees within this circle. Multiply the result by 50 to find the stocking density per hectare.

For instance, you should count 66 live oak trees within the circle, while Sitka spruce should have 50 live trees. 

Check for nutrient deficiencies

Satisfactory nutrient levels will contribute to healthy trees and good growth rates. Levels vary according to the soil type and tree species planted.

Sometimes, trees may gradually lose vigour and display symptoms of nutrient deficiency. Other factors such as poor drainage or lack of adequate vegetation control may also produce deficiency-like symptoms.

It is vital to find the source of any possible growth problem before attempting to rectify it!

Where symptoms occur, foliar analysis is recommended to determine the nature and the extent of a possible nutrient problem. Evergreen conifers should be sampled (ideally) in December.

How to take foliar samples and where to send them to for analysis can be found on www.teagasc.ie/forestry

Check drains

It is very important to ensure good drainage. A high water table leads to difficulties in nutrient uptake while limited tree rooting space affects (future) tree stability.

So on your walk, keep a close eye on the drainage system and keep it effective at all times. 

Check fences and gates

Make sure to keep browsing animals such as sheep, cattle and deer out of your forest. They damage (or kill) trees by bark stripping, eating of shoots or trampling on tree roots. Trees browsed by animals will lose their commercial value very quickly.

Caption: Where deer are present, a deer fence is critically important to prevent serious damage to the oak woodland on the left. Photo: Teagasc.

Animals may also cause drains to collapse, initiating waterlogging. This will result in an increased windthrow risk. 

Carry out formative shaping

Shaping of broadleaf trees can be carried out in summer or winter but not in spring or autumn.

The purpose of formative shaping is to create a single, straight length of quality timber. By removing forks or very large competing side branches, you ‘extend’ sawlog length.

Shaping should start early once trees are growing vigorously. Use good quality, clean, sharp secateurs. Loppers and a pruning saw may have to be used if shaping is left very late.

Remove the weaker (and crooked) side of the fork. Also remove very large side branches. Don’t remove too much of the foliage, the tree needs its leaves to grow strongly. A correct cut is made just outside the branch collar without leaving a peg. 

Mark Potential Crop Trees (PCTs)

Winter is a good time to select the best trees (or Potential Crop Trees) in your broadleaf forest. Some of these trees will go on to produce the final and intermediate sawlog timber.

PCTs should have good, straight stem form, have good vigour, be disease-free and are evenly distributed. Aim for 300 to 500 PCTs per hectare.

Select your future PCTs before the first thinning operation is carried out. The other trees you can regard as ‘fill’ and will gradually be removed providing growing space for the PCTs. 

Carry out high pruning

Once the final ‘sawlog length’ has been achieved by regular formative shaping (see above) then high pruning should be considered. The purpose of high pruning is to avoid knots in the timber.

Start by removing the lowest side branches, gradually removing branches up the tree as the tree develops. Only PCTs need to be high pruned. High pruning tends to be initiated after a first thin operation has been carried out. 

Cut inspection paths

When a conifer forest is about ten years old, inspection paths are required. This allows access into and through the forest so that the suitability for thinning (and timber quality) can be assessed. There is a short, handy video on www.teagasc.ie/forestry  explaining this process. 

Review your insurance cover

Brexit has contributed to a drastic increase in the cost of forest insurance. Having said that, it is still advisable to insure your forest.

Make sure that you understand what you are insuring. For instance, policies may cover

  • Loss of timber value due to fire and/or wind damage
  • Cost of replanting
  • Fire brigade charges
  • Public liability and employer’s liability. 

And finally:

Consider the many benefits of a real Irish Christmas tree.

Real Christmas trees are more environmentally friendly, carbon-neutral and you are contributing to keeping real jobs in rural Ireland.

Irish growers produce around 650,000 Christmas trees each year with 450,000 sold at home and about 200,000 exported abroad, mainly to France, Germany and the UK. The industry contributes €25 million to the Irish economy.

You can't have a real Christmas without a real Christmas tree!  Happy Christmas.


The Teagasc Forestry Department issues an article on a Forestry topic every Friday here on Teagasc Daily 

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