Early Lesson For ForeverRedwood

We planted 6,000 trees over 3 winters on 30 acres thru Dec '01. But, in the woods, you can't water your trees. So, by December of 2002, while preparing to plant the next year's 2,000, we counted only 310 seedlings from the prior 3 years still alive! Some had grown a bit, but most were barely alive. Our foresters pointed to the long dry summers and said it often took years for tiny seedlings to get established and begin to grow robustly. After 3 years, we realized the experts didn't really have answers for our somewhat harsh, slightly below average quality site forestlands. We were on our own to figure out how to get the trees to live and grow. We decided to take drastic steps.

First, we studied which seedlings lived and the few that were growing. The seedlings in heavily shaded areas (next to a downed logged or near watercourses) did the best. Seedlings in exposed or windy areas died or were about to die. Seedlings planted with the ability to catch water did better than those without some obstacle that held water.
Instead of sending another 2,000 seedlings to an almost certain early death, planting was cancelled in Dec '02. Instead, the seedlings were transplanted into 2, 3 and 5 gallon pots and placed in a mostly shaded Redwood grove. Over the next year, they were babied with regular watering and stakes to keep them growing straight and strong. Only seedlings at least 18 inches tall and with a healthy root ball (coming out the bottom of the pots) would be planted from now on.
In Dec 2003, we planted 1,200 seedlings at least 18 inches tall in a completely new way. Using an auger bit attached to a chain saw, holes 2 feet deep and about 9 inches wide were dug. Then about 6 inches of loose soil was thrown back into the hole before planting. After filling the air pockets and tamping down moderately, about 4 inches of duff (leaves, small branches, cones, from the surrounding forest ground) was added to the top of the hole to add insulation from the wind and sun. We planted the trees deep enough so the top of the 4 inches of duff still remained at least a couple inches below the contour of the ground. Planting this way accomplished 4 things:
1. The loosened soil under the tree made it easier for the roots to grow into the forest soil.

2. The duff insulated the roots to help retain moisture thru the hot dry summer and fall.

3. The larger seedlings didn't need plastic tree protectors because deer could no longer pull the trees out of the ground if they nibbled off the tip.

4. Planting deep and below the contour of the land left pockets to collect extra rainwater and the roots were kept cooler year round at the added depth.

Growing Success…

A few months later, the newly planted seedlings began sprouting new growth. Five years later, over 7,500 of the larger seedlings have been planted this way. Over 85% have lived. While still relatively small, most grow an average of 6 to 8 inches per year at this young age without being watered or cared for in any way. Thousands of young Redwoods averaging 3 ft in height are now slowly restablishing the ancient tree's dominance in our Annapolis forestlands.

In March of 2008, a couple researchers from National Geographic magazine visited. The magazine is preparing its first expose on the Redwood forest since 1964, to be published in late 2009. After a 3-day visit, Michael Fay, the lead researcher, mentioned no one in the Redwoods was planting trees like we were. He had us plant one tree for the magazine to photograph the process explained above. It was a bit past the best time to plant, so we watered the hole extensively before and after. Hopefully the tree planting notes and photos will make it into the article.

Tree Planting 101

In December '99, Forever Redwood planted its first 2,000 Redwood trees. It seemed straightforward and we were excited to finally reach this phase in the restoration work. After years of hard labor thinning the overgrown young forest of excessive hardwoods and suppressed dying trees, we looked forward to the forest slowly becoming mostly Redwoods again. The seedlings were from the state nursery from stock collected years earlier in our "seed zone."
Before planting, we consulted several forestry experts about the best way to do this. The consensus was to plant at least 200 per acre when the ground was saturated with moisture. We were told to use "plastic guards" so the deer wouldn't eat the seedlings and to not plant near existing trees. Considering a young stand of trees already existed, 200 per acre seemed excessive. We were told the best ones could then be retained and the rest thinned in future years