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Early Forest Management – Future Proofing your Forest’s Potential

19 June 2018
Type Media Article

By Noel Kennedy, Teagasc Forestry Development Officer

Identifying and managing the challenges facing young forest trees was the focus of a recent nationwide series of forest walks organised by Teagasc and DAFM. As the majority of forests less than 4 years old are maintained under contract by a forester/forestry management company there was also an important message for owners to be proactive during this critical establishment period   to ensure the best possible outcome for the young trees and later forest development. 

New forests that are properly designed and well planted have achieved the first step on the road to successful crop establishment. However with the completion of planting comes a range of challenges to maintaining healthy tree growth.

Vegetation Control:

Competition from vegetation is the biggest threat to the survival of young trees and effective control is crucial on most forest sites. Poor weed control is the most common cause of poor tree performance and plantation devaluation.

Take Home Message – Effective early vegetation control during the first four years is critical for young trees and remain healthy, grow vigorously and establish successfully. Talk to your forester.

Tree Replacement:

There will always be a small number of tree deaths in young forests. Failures need to be replaced or “beaten-up” as early as possible, ideally within the first two years. Tree numbers should be maintained as close to 100% stocking as possible to optimise forest development.

Take Home Message – Replace failures as soon as possible to maintain uniform forest development and avoid potential delays on grant and premium payments. Talk to your forester.

Tree Health:

The growth and health of young trees can be affected if growing on soils deficient in N, P and K - the most import nutrients for healthy tree growth. The most common symptoms of nutrient problems are slower growth and often changes in the colour of needles and leaves.

Early identification and remediation of the situation is essential. Owners should have a basic understanding of what an unhealthy tree looks like - however it is important to remember that other factors apart from nutrients can produce similar symptoms such as poor drainage, frost etc.

Take Home Message – Poor tree health needs to be identified early and remedial works carried out promptly to get young trees back on track. Talk to your forester.

Formative Shaping:

Oak, Ash, Beech and other broadleaf trees take many years to mature into valuable timber producers. However quality timber will only be achieved with on-going management and this begins as early as 4-5 years old. It is common for young broadleaf trees to be forked or have large side branches and the early removal of forks and large branches by formative shaping is important to improve longer term timber quality.Failure to shape is likely to result in poor quality low value trees. For grant aided broadleaves an initial shaping is required by the time the trees are four years old.

Take Home Message - Shaping is necessary to grow good quality broadleaf trees and for most species it is required by year four for afforestation grant payment. But you can learn how to do this yourself! Talk to your forester and Teagasc forestry adviser.

Frost Damage:

Localised late spring frost damage to new growth is common in late May-early June. Most trees will recover strongly with no significant after effects. However repeated damage may compromise future timber potential.

Take Home Message – Don’t panic! In most cases trees will recover fully from frost damage. However be vigilant and if you notice new growth that is wilted and brown let your forester know.

Fire Risk:

Young forests particularly adjoining bogland are vulnerable to fire during prolonged dry spells. Owners should be vigilant to the potential risk of fire – keep firebreaks clean, have contact details and directions for the emergency services and insure the forest against fire. 

Take Home Message – To protect you and your forest in the event of a forest fire - Insure your forest and have a fire plan.

Afforestation Grant and Premium:

Good management in the first 4 years is essential to promote strong development in young forests. It is also central to the successful payment of the remaining afforestation grant and future premiums.

Forest owners have an important role to play in this from both a forest and financial perspective – not just for the first four years but for the full lifetime of the forest. It is your forest – you have made the commitment – you reap the rewards.

Take Home Message - Pro-active and knowledgeable forest owners can  control  longer term forest growth and reap the rewards from of higher value timber crops.

Teagasc offers an independent forestry advisory service. For further information on our services and downloads on a range of forest management topics, please see www.teagasc.ie/forestry