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Young farm forests – time for a winter check-up

Young farm forests – time for a winter check-up

It's been a long winter and it’s still not letting go. But with Spring around the corner and nature about to burst into life, now is the time to check the progress of your young farm forest, to see what might need attention now and in the weeks ahead. Noel Kennedy, Teagasc Forestry advisor has more

But before we begin…don’t forget to apply for the 2021 forestry premium. Remember this is now an online application.

Take a walk

With no new growth yet and vegetation low now is a great time to take a walk in your young forest to see how the trees have come through the winter. With easier access you can check how the trees are looking, if fences are still intact and if there are any other issues that may require attention.

Shaping of broadleaves

As your broadleaf trees remain dormant and without leaves now is an ideal time to carry out formative shaping. Shaping improves the straightness of the young broadleaves through the careful removal of side branches and forked leader shoots – some of which may have developed as a result of last year’s May frost. It is important to note that grant aided broadleaf plots will require an initial shaping prior to the second instalment of the afforestation grant at year 4. With additional shaping and good thinning management in the coming years your broadleaf trees will have the potential to become a source of valuable hardwood timber. 

Singling of conifers

Many young Sitka spruce and Norway spruce forests were also damaged by the 2020 spring frost. Most trees recovered well in the remaining growing season but many lost their leader shoots and now have multiple new leaders. Nature will eventually choose a new leader but this may take several years and seriously impact a trees’ growth and longer term timber potential.

You can speed up and positively influence this outcome by singling. Singling is a straightforward task which restores a single leader by removing competing shoots. All you need are good secateurs or loppers – and a strong pair of gloves as spruce can be a prickly customer!


This is also a great time to replace or “beat-up” trees that may have failed last year.  Be ready to plant when the new bare-rooted trees arrive but do not plant in frosty weather. If you have to store the trees, keep them in the tied bags, store them upright in a shed and plant them within two weeks. Remember it is a requirement of the Afforestation grant that at year 4 the number of live trees is at least 90% of the original.

With a stretch in the days ahead and soil beginning to warm newly planted bare-rooted trees should thrive when they break bud in the coming weeks. While most bare-rooted conifer species can be planted until May, it is recommended that all broadleaves species should be planted as soon as possible to minimise potential losses.


Check the fence around the forest for any damage over the winter that could allow cattle, sheep or horses to get in and damage trees. Gaps due to fallen trees, floods or weakened sections should be repaired immediately. This is also a good opportunity to clear gates of overgrowth and check that forest drains and silt traps are in good working order.

Tree damage

Winter is a peak period for damage to young trees caused by hares, rabbits and deer. Young broadleaf trees are especially vulnerable. If you have concerns about damage to your young trees report it immediately to a forester or seek advice from your local Teagasc forestry advisor.

Tree health

The signs of nutrient deficiency are usually not evident until trees are at least 4-5 years old. If you have concerns about the growth or colour of your young conifers now is the right time to take foliage samples when the trees are dormant. The samples can be sent to a laboratory for analysis and any nutrient deficiencies identified. Foliar sampling of broadleaf trees takes place during the simmer months.

If a deficiency is identified a plan for remedial fertilisation can be prepared. Fertiliser can however only be applied between the months of April and August and in favourable conditions.

Vegetation control

Young trees may be at risk from vegetation competition in the coming months and now is the time to plan for an effective vegetation control programme. With April and May being the critical months for tree growth, plan for competing vegetation to be controlled by this time.

Your health and safety

Take care to watch your health and safety if you are working in the forest. Avoid working alone and always let someone know where you are. If working with someone follow all the appropriate Covid-19 health protocols.

Winter is a great time to take stock of your young farm forest and for you to be actively involved. With thriving trees in the first four to five years and subsequent good management you can confidently look forward to growing a vibrant and valuable forest. For advice contact your local Teagasc forestry adviser or check www.teagasc.ie/forestry for information on a range of early management topics.