Choosing Proper Species for Planting


Choosing Proper Species for Planting

By Dan Kintigh, Kintigh’s Mt Home Ranch

It is important to identify micro-sites on your tree farm and choose the proper species to plant on them. Identifying these micro-sites requires a good knowledge of your land. This comes by observing the soil, moisture and vegetative cover when you are doing various activities on your tree farm. This is really not something you can trust to the average contract tree planter. There's an old saying that holds true here--"the best fertilizer for the land is the footprint of the owner".

Diversity similar to that which is found in nature is obtained by planting the proper species on these micro-sites selecting: not by carrying several species in your planting bag and methodically alternating the different species across your planting area. A good example of this is on a dry rocky ridge or in a poorly drained heavy soil; you may be able to grow a reasonably good crop of Valley Ponderosa pine where Douglas-fir would fail. Some people are reluctant to plant Valley Ponderosa pine because of the lack of a local market at the present time. While nothing is for sure, there will probably be sawmills interested when there is sufficient volume available for a developing market. On many sites, Valley Ponderosa pine will greatly outgrow Douglas-fir. So even with low log prices you might still net more money. While not generally thought of as a micro-site, forest land shaded by large timber on adjacent property requires special attention. Douglas-fir seedlings do very poorly within a considerable distance from large trees. Such a location calls are for the planting of a shade tolerant species such as western red cedar, hemlock or grand fir. A word of caution about planting western red cedar, people generally associate western red cedar with wet sites and generally speaking it is true. However, if it is wet because it is heavy and poorly drained it may not be a suitable western red cedar site. A good indicator of such conditions is the presence of Oregon white ash. To do well cedar needs reasonably good drainage.

Choosing the Right Species—Site Preferences

Source Rick Fletcher OSU Extension with Dan Kintigh, Kintigh’s Mt Home Ranch

Where specific tree species grow is no accident. In the wild, trees may be where they are for a variety of reasons. But often they are where they are because they compete better for that shady space near the stream, can stand the hot, dry summer drought on a clay hillside, or simply grow faster than other species in a particular place. To ensure success with growing trees in the Willamette Valley, select tree species that will "love" the place where they are planted. Simply surviving is not enough. Learn the conditions preferred by different species and be able to recognize these conditions on your property. Table 1 lists tolerance of common native species to various site conditions. Listed along the top row are factors that impact how well trees will perform. Take a look at each as it appears in the table:• Growth: This gives you a feel for how tall a tree can grow in a good location each year. When you are planting, think ahead and allow room for your trees to grow. Too often landowners will plant more trees than the site can handle after only a few years.

Low light: Most trees prefer open sunlight areas, yet some will do better if they are planted in partially shaded areas. Trees with rating of 4-5 will tolerate some shade. Trees with a 1-2 would need full sun.

Animals: This relates to damage from big game like deer and elk, which can eat certain trees to the ground if hungry. If the large animals are around, planting a species with a rating of 1 is like planting lunch if you don't protect the trees.

Wet Soil: Almost all species prefer deep, well-drained soil. Trees need water, but not too much. On sites that seem to stay wet or soggy, look for species with 4-5 ratings. And if it is too wet or flooded for long periods, do not be surprised if no tree species thrive. Some areas are just destined for wetland marshes.

Drought: Annual rainfall in the Valley is variable from year to year, but also varies from around 30 inches to more than 80 inches depending on where in the Valley you are located. If you are planting trees on a low-rainfall area with rocky soils, look at a species with a 4 or 5.

Frost: Some areas are prone to spring frosts that may continually kill new growth on plants. Valley bottoms are particularly susceptible to this problem. Again some plants (those with 4-5 ratings) may tolerate this factor better.

Table 1:
Performance of Native Tree Species of the Willamette Valley
                ------------- Tolerance** to: ------------------    
                Low                   Wet
SPECIES         Growth*     Light     Animals     Soil     Drought     Frost
Douglas-fir     3-4         2         2           2        3           4
Ponderosa pine  2-3         1         4           5        5           5
Grand fir       3-4         4         4           3        2           3 
W. redcedar     2-3         5         1           4        1           2
W. hemlock      2-3         5         3           3        1           1
Incense-cedar   1-2         2         3           2        5           3
Ore. white oak  0-3         1         4           4        5           5
Bigleaf maple   2-3         4         1           4        3           5
Red alder       3-4         1         2           4        1           2
White alder     2-3         1         2           5        1           2
Cottonwood      1-12        1         1           5        1           5
Oregon ash      1-3         3         2           5        2           5
Chinquapin      1-3         3         5           3        4           5
Madrone         1-2         2         5           2        5           3
* Height growth per year in feet during good growing years.
** Tolerance ranges from 1 (species very susceptible to this factor)
to 5 (species not susceptible to this factor).