I get calls every year about planting pines, stand establishment, and related requests. I also get many calls from landowners who have planted pines recently (10 years or less) and are wondering what to do going forward. Ideally, they are from landowners that have well thought out plans and just need some assistance with the finer details or are experiencing some unexpected issues. Unfortunately, I do often get calls from landowners that are just at a loss and are planting or managing with no real plan for now or the future. These landowners have great goals and intentions, but they are new to forest ownership and the long-term nature of forest management comes as a bit of a surprise. I love helping these landowners out though because often I can catch them early and get them on the right track. Establishing a forest stand right from the beginning and managing it well in the early establishment phase is critical to success. Mistakes can often stick around and be felt a decade or more in forestry; it is just part of forest ownership and management.
In over a decade of forest management practice I cannot stress to landowners and forestry professionals the critical importance of getting initial planting and establishment right. This is not the time to have a vague plan or to cut costs or corners. What you do now may well haunt you and impact your goals and investment return for over 30 years. In row crop agriculture you can often make corrections year to year, but in forestry missing competition control or a thinning can impact growth for the entire rotation. Considering that on average a landowner will get to see two rotations of timber in their lifetime, the margin for mistakes and missed opportunities is very slim. This is why it is so important when establishing a forest or reforesting after a final harvest that the planting plan and early management plan be well thought out and executed.
Winter is forestry planting season, and it is in full swing right now. Peak planting is usually in the months of December and January, but forest planting usually runs from November to the end of February or first of March. This is the opposite of most other agricultural and plant establishment operations because trees are best planted while they are dormant. Winter is the best time because when trees are dormant, they focus energy on root growth, and thus a newly planted seedling will focus on establishing it’s root system and be ready to start growing in spring. You may be wondering about pines and evergreens since they keep their foliage, but this is true for them as well. Pines have a dormant period in winter that is induced by weather and the amount of low temperature chill hours. They do not lose their needles but continue to photosynthesize. They do not actively grow new foliage or start renewed growth until spring. This is why winter is the best time to plant both forest and urban trees of all types and why Florida celebrates Arbor Day on January 20th (check your local county information for your local celebrations).
If you are conducting reforestation operations this winter, as many are, now is a great time to update your forest management/stewardship plan. If you are planning to plant trees or reforest in the near future, or if you are planning to harvest timber soon, now is a great time to work on a reforestation and stand establishment plan. If you are not working with a consulting forester it is highly encouraged you work with one to help with your reforestation, planting, and forest management needs. These highly trained professionals are equipped to help you make the best forest management decisions and can assist with locating contractors and forestry service providers. Using a consulting forester makes reforestation and management much easier for a landowner and results in better outcomes. Use of a consultant is not required though, so if you are a do-it-yourself landowner you will want to make sure all your ducks are in a row well before planting time comes around. The key to that is a good planting and stand establishment plan. UF IFAS has a great new EDIS publication out and available for landowners on planting southern pines in Florida. You can access the article here FOR385/FR456: Planting Southern Pines in Florida (ufl.edu) . For those who aren’t aware; recovering forests in the Hurricane Michael impact zone has become one of the largest reforestation and recover projects in the state’s history. If we get those reforestation efforts right now; it will pay big dividends for our landowners and communities in the future. The same goes for normal year to year reforestation efforts across the state as well.
A good reforestation or tree planting plan has several components. The core components are: type of regeneration natural vs. artificial, site and stand preparation, seedling establishment/planting, survival and early stand assessment, and early management of vegetation and fertility. For this article we will focus on artificial regeneration, which is when nursery grown seedlings are planted on the site. This is by far the most prevalent method, and it provides the most control over density and seedling quality. This also allows the use of genetically improved seed stock, which can greatly enhance forest productivity and value at end of rotation. Most pine planted in the southern United States now uses genetically improved seed stock. This is the result of decades of careful selection, testing, and deployment; much like agricultural crops like corn, cotton, etc. A landowner planting trees today has access to some of the best site preparation and reforestation seedling stock ever available, and taking advantage of it pays huge dividends. Here are the steps you can take as a landowner to get your plan outlined.
Determine the timeline for reforestation and plan accordingly.
Determine the species, density, seed source, genetic improvement level, and nursery availability of your desired seedlings.
Determine the site preparation required to ensure planting success
Determine the planting method; reserve planting labor and seedlings required to accomplish planting
Have planting contractor and nursery logistics coordinated for day of planting
Establish a follow up survival assessment period and have a plan to correct a full or partial planting failure.
Follow up on monitoring your stand and have plans for control of competing vegetation and other early stand treatments.
The work does not stop once you have the trees planted and the young stand is established. One of the biggest mistakes made in forest management is a “Plant Them and Forget Them” approach to timber management. This is a near guarantee to have issues especially in Florida with its fast vegetative growth, heavy competing vegetation, and propensity to hurricanes and wildfires.
Once you have your stand established by executing your reforestation plan; you want to move into forest management and stewardship for the long haul. This means you will need a Forest Management or Forest Stewardship plan to get a handle on what your young forest needs going forward. The plan is usually written to cover a 5-to-10-year period and then it is reassessed and revised.
A landowner with 20 acres or more can enroll in the Forest Stewardship Program through the Florida Forest Service and receive a Forest Stewardship Plan written by the county forester or a consultant. Forest Landowners with 160 acres or more are encouraged to use a private consultant to develop a plan. Landowners that use a consultant can receive funding through the program to help cover the cost of the plan. For more details and to enroll in the Forest Stewardship Program contact your county forester and follow this link Forest Stewardship Program / Programs for Landowners / For Landowners / Forest & Wildfire / Home – Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (fdacs.gov) . Once you have your plan and complete the program you get a great Stewardship Forest sign to advertise your commitment to being a good land steward.
The old adage “Fail to plan, Plan to fail” unfortunately often holds true for reforestation and forest management. Failed planting operations and missed opportunities can cost a landowner significantly. To ensure the success of your reforestation efforts and early timber management; get a plan and have one for the long haul. When planned out well, tree planting operations usually go smoothly and are successful. Followed up with a good forest management plan this covers the critical early establishment period and will ensure a successful forest management operation. Getting a plan together is a minimal cost compared to a failed planting or reduced growth and yield. Using a private consulting forester of your choice and working together with a forestry professional can get you off to the long-range project that is timber management. If you are planning on planting trees now or in the future; plan well and follow up. Years from now you will enjoy seeing your goals and objectives come together.
Author: Ian Stone – Forestry Extension Agent Walton County
Selecting a consulting forester is often a major decision for small to large private landowners engaged in forest management and enterprises. Consulting foresters provide technical forestry assistance in all aspects of forest management. These professionals can assist landowners by identifying goals and needs and then apply forestry expertise to meet these needs and goals. Consulting foresters are professionals who provide their services for a fee; much like lawyers or engineers. Consulting foresters provide multiple services with various fee structures which can be provided on an hourly, per acre, one-time, or percentage. For example, a herbicide treatment would often be on a per acre basis, while a timber sale would often be done on a percentage. A landowner should always have a consultant provide a scope of work along with the fee structure and estimate. It is advisable that a landowner consult several foresters or firms to compare services and fees before making a selection.
Streamside Management Zone (SMZ) marked prior to harvest so it is clear to the landowner and logger. This service is often performed by a consulting forester as part of timber sale preparation. (Photo Credit: David Stevens, Bugwood.org Image# 5443305)
Consulting foresters are highly skilled professionals with extensive knowledge in many areas. Examples of required areas of knowledge are timber volume estimation and appraisal, forest management, tree planting and reforestation, prescribed fire, wildlife and habitat management, taxation, estate planning, forest treatment such as mechanical, herbicide, fertilization, and many more. Most consultants are well versed in all aspects of the forestry profession, but often have one or two areas of specialization. A landowner should discuss the services and credentials a forestry consultant or firm provides and select on that best fits their unique needs.
Many states require consulting foresters to become registered or certified through a professional certification board. Florida, however, is an exception to this which means landowners in Florida should thoroughly examine the forester’s professional credentials. Landowners should select a forester with the skills and credentials they require. The two largest professional organizations that set professional expectations for foresters are the Society of American Foresters (SAF) and the Association of Consulting Foresters (ACF) Examples of what to look for in credentialing are as follows:
A 4-year bachelor’s degree in forestry or a related field; especially form an SAF accredited university forestry program
Registration or certification in another state or nationally through the SAF Certified Forester
Membership in professional forestry organizations such as ACF or SAF, along with similar
organizations such as Tree Farm, Florida Forestry Association, or Forest Landowners Association
The ability to clearly communicate with the client and others. Ask for samples of contracts, a
written quote, an in-person meeting, and references from other landowners
Professional integrity, honesty, and a commitment to ethical practice
Landowners can find listings of Consulting Foresters and firms in their area through multiple sources.
Landowners can find lists of registered foresters through the Alabama and Georgia boards of forestry. Most consultants close to state boundaries practice in multiple states. In addition, SAF and ACF maintain online listings of consulting foresters and members at large.
Additional Helpful Websites for Locating a Consulting Forester in the Panhandle-
This giant heritage live oak tree has been providing oxygen, habitat, and shelter for 900 years! Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
While many people think of planting trees in the spring, autumn and winter are ideal for these activities in Florida. The cooler weather means most trees are no longer actively growing and producing new leaves and fruit, so there are fewer demands on a newly planted tree to start “working” right away. The dormant winter season allows the trees to acclimate to their new environment and begin developing sturdy root systems.
However, a newly planted tree is only as valuable as the care it’s given when planted. To ensure a successful tree, important steps to follow include proper placement, planting depth, mulching, and watering.
Proper tree planting practices can ensure a long-lived, healthy tree in the environment. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
Before digging, look up and around to make sure there are no overhead or underground obstacles within the reaches of the tree’s mature height or root system. When digging the planting hole, make sure the hole is 2-3 times as wide as the root ball. When planted, the topmost root flare (where the roots join the trunk) should be just above the surface of the adjacent landscape. It is not necessary to fertilize a newly planted tree. Use mulch to retain moisture in the soil, but do not place it against the tree’s trunk. Finally, water the tree daily, saturating the root ball, for 1-2 weeks then weekly for a year.
For more information on planting trees and good varieties of trees for Florida, visit this excellent resource from UF. As always, one should strive to plant the right tree in the right place. For those who live in suburban or urban areas, considerations like tree size, leaf shed, and water requirements are big concerns. For more information on size evaluation and plant selection, please visit this link from the UF Horticulture department.
We’re waging war on an invasive weed, Cogongrass. Cogongrass was accidently brought into Mobile, Alabama in the early 1900’s as packing material. It was later planted in Florida and other states as a potential forage and soil stabilizer. It has low forage value and is on the Federal Noxious Weed List.
This weed can spread through both creeping rhizomes and seeds. It quickly displaces desirable grasses and plants. The roots of Cogongrass may produce allelopathic chemicals helping it out-compete other plants for space. It is drought and shade tolerant. A single plant can produce 3,000 seeds. Cogongrass is yellow/green in color with an off-set midrib and a fluffy white seed head and it grows in circular colonies.
Mowing and burning will not eradicate Cogongrass instead doing so while the plants are flowering can cause spread of seeds. Herbicide options are non-selective and kill most native ground cover such as grasses. Ridding an area of a Cogongrass infestation requires intensive management. For small infestations (less than 20-30 feet in diameter), treat the area with glyphosate once in the fall and once in the spring for 3 years (or until eradicated). For larger infestations, a more integrated approach may be necessary. Deep tilling of the soil may help in some cases.
Cogongrass is not easy to control. It takes a coordinated effort from government agencies and private landowners to work together to rid an area of this invasive weed. For more information, you can go to https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/wg202 or contact your local extension agent.
A relatively new patch of cogongrass recently found in Washington County. Photo Credit: Mark Mauldin
Define Invasive Species: must have all of the following –
Is non-native to the area, in our case northwest Florida
Introduced by humans, whether intentional or accidental
Causing either an environmental or economic problem, possibly both
Define “Dirty Dozen” Species:
These are species that are well established within the CISMA and are considered, by members of the CISMA, to be one of the top 12 worst problems in our area.
Cogongrass is from southeast Asia.
It was accidentally introduced as an “escapee” from satsuma crates brought to Grand Bay, Alabama in 1912. It was later intentionally introduced into Mississippi in the 1920s as a forage crop and then to Florida in the 1930s for both forage and soil stabilization.
EDDMapS currently list 79,134 records of this plant. All are listed in the southeastern U.S. Most are in Florida and Alabama, but there are records from Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, North and South Carolina.
Within our CISMA there are 13,279 records. This is probably underreported.
Cogongrass is a perennial grass that can vary in color from a bright-light green when young to a brown-orange when older. It does die back in areas with cold winters and heavy frost and becomes brown. The leaves emerge from the ground in clumps and can reach four feet in height. The blades are 0.5-0.75 inches wide and the light-colored midline is off center. The blades are serrated along the edge. In the spring the grass produces large white colored fluffs of seeds extending above the leaves to be carried by the wind. There are numerous small seeds joined on long hairs of these structures. There is an extensive rhizome system beneath the ground that can contribute to short distance spread.
Issues and Impacts:
The plant spreads aggressively and has been found in ditches, along roadsides, in pastures, timberlands, golf courses, empty lots, and even on barrier islands. It spreads both by seed wind dispersal and rhizome fragmentation. The plant is known to be allelopathic, desiccating neighboring plants and moving in. It can form dense monocultures in many areas.
The serrated edges of the leaves make it undesirable as a livestock forage, a fact not detected until the plant was established. It can cover large areas of pasture making it unusable. In the winter the plant becomes brown and can burn very hot. Timberland that has been infested with cogongrass can burn too hot during prescribed burns actually killing the trees.
It is currently listed as one of the most invasive plants in the United States. It is a federal and state noxious weed, it is prohibited all across Florida and has a high invasion risk.
The key to controlling this plant is destroying the extensive rhizome system. Simple disking has been shown to be effective if you dig during the dry season, when the rhizomes can dry out, and if you disk deep enough to get all of the rhizomes. Though the rhizomes can be found as deep as four feet, most are within six inches and at least a six-inch disking is recommended.
Chemical treatments have had some success. Prometon (Pramitol), tebuthurion (Spike), and imazapyr have all had some success along roadsides and in ditches. However, the strength of these chemicals will impede new growth, or plantings of new plants, for up to six months. This can lead to erosion issues that are undesirable. Glyphosate has been somewhat successful, and its short soil life will allow the planting of new plants immediately. Due to this however, it may take multiple treatments over multiple years to keep cogongrass under control and it will kill other plants if sprayed during treatment.
Most recommend a mixture of burning, disking, and chemical treatment. Disking and burning should be conducted in the summer to remove thatch and all older and dead cogongrass. As new shoots emerge in late summer and early fall herbicides can then be used to kill the young plants. Studies and practice have found complete eradication is difficult. It is also recommended not to attempt any management while in seed (in spring). Tractors, mowers, etc. can collect the seeds and, when the mowers are moved to new locations, spread the problem. If all mowing/disking equipment can be cleaned after treatment – this is highly recommended.
For more information on this Dirty Dozen species, contact your local extension office.
Cogongrass, University of Florida IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
Wild Turkeys in Chufa planted in Gadsden County – Photo by Shep Eubanks UF IFAS
Wildlife management continues to be an area of growing interest on our local farms and ranches and has the potential to generate significant additional income to the farm enterprise. It is also an opportunity to practice good stewardship of the natural resources that we have in abundance here in the Panhandle. Each spring I get many phone calls from landowners wanting to know what they can plant to encourage wild turkeys to utilize their property more and to enhance the quality of their wild turkey habitat. Chufa is one such plant that wild turkeys love like most of us love ice cream and it is easy to grow and will provide feed for turkeys for several months.
What is chufa? Chufa is an African variety of the native nutsedge, which is a warm season perennial plant. However, chufa is not as aggressive as the native nutsedges and typically will not create problems with succeeding crops that you might plant after it. The actual foliage of the plant is not utilized by wildlife, but turkeys, hogs, ducks, and raccoons love the underground tubers that the plant produces. Each individual plant can produce 10 to 75 peanut kernel sized tubers (see photo 1) that wildlife utilize. These tubers are high in carbohydrates and protein, and they are also edible by humans, having a sweet taste similar to almonds or raw peanuts.
Photo 1. Chufa seed for planting – Photo by Shep Eubanks UF IFAS
Turkeys will usually begin to dig the chufas up in early fall as soon as the above ground leaves turn brown. In Florida, they will dig and eat the nuts from fall throughout the winter and into spring. (see photo 2 of turkeys feeding in a spring chufa patch)
Photo 2. Turkeys scratching up chufas – Photo by Shep Eubanks UF IFAS
If you are considering planting chufa there are several considerations to take into account. The chufa plant typically grows well anywhere that field corn can be grown. You should soil test the area you intend to plant and lime to a pH between 6.0 – 6.5. On most soils this requires 1 ton of lime per acre. Recommended planting dates are April 1st through June 30th in the panhandle area. Earlier plantings will provide higher yields, whereas later plantings typically will provide foraging for wildlife later into the following spring. To maximize use by turkeys into the spring I would recommend looking at planting in June. Chufa can be planted later than June 30th some years but remember that it takes the plant approximately 90 days to produce mature tubers and this must be accomplished prior to frost/cold weather. Plant the seed into a well prepared and fertilized seedbed. The seeding rate for chufa is 40 – 50 pounds per acre broadcast or 30 pounds per acre drilled on a 36 inch row spacing. Strive for a coverage of 3 or 4 seed per square foot. When broadcasting the seed, set your disk to cut about 4 inches deep. This will cover the seed to an approximate depth of 2 inches which is ideal for chufa. Normal fertilizer recommendations would be 200 pounds of 17-17-17 per acre or equivalent at planting. When the plants are 6 – 12 inches high (approximately 1 month old) you should top dress with 100 pounds of actual N per acre (300 pounds of ammonium nitrate) to maximize yields. With high costs of fertilizer this may not be as desirable, but yields will be smaller if fertilizer rates are reduced. For weed control options on chufa plantings consult with your local County Extension Agent for up-to-date recommendations.
Small plantings are feasible (less than ¼ acre) if wild hogs are not present. It has been my experience that best results are obtained with ½ acre or larger plantings. Chufa is a plant that will do a good job of reseeding itself, sometimes for several years. Reseeding can be accomplished by simply disking the area of the previous planting between April and the end of June and following fertilizer recommendations for the initial planting. For most locations it is advisable to move the chufa plot to a different location after the second crop to avoid problems with soil pests. (see photo 3 of typical planting).
If you have never planted chufas before for your turkeys, you may want to pull some up or disk a row up in the fall after the tops have died back. This will assist the turkeys in finding the plants if they have never encountered it before. Once they do find it you can expect to find tremendous areas of scratching. Quite often the plots will literally look like a mortar or bombing range where the turkeys dig down to get the chufas!