Many timberland owners will only final harvest their timber one time in their lives. Once harvested, they are faced with something they have not dealt with before, what to do with the cutover land. If they have plans to convert it to another use like pasture, cropland, or possibly some type of development, they can get started with those processes. If they plan to sustainably manage a forest for the future either for themselves, their heirs, or for conservation purposes, they will need to get to work cultivating the next stand of timber. For most owners in the southeastern US, this will mean replanting the land with one of the southern yellow pine species. But before they can start putting seedlings in the ground, they must prepare the site for planting. The process is called site preparation or site prep for short. Just like you would prepare a new lawn for seeding or turn over a garden before planting your vegetable seeds or seedlings, you must prepare the cutover land for the tree seedlings. Like in a garden spot, your site prep goal is to reduce the amount of unused material, diminish the competition from undesired plants, and prepare the soil for the new seedlings.
The site prep process begins with the final harvest by reducing the amount of unused material left on the site. The more trees you can harvest from the site, and the more of each tree you can completely utilize, the better off you will be. It is not just harvesting the main stem but also the tops, limbs, and other pieces. By removing excess debris from the site and taking them to a mill or other processing facility, less effort will be needed to prepare the site for the next timber stand. So, work with your forester and the harvesting crew to completely utilize what you have been growing for those many years.
Once the trees are removed, you will have to take stock of what is left. But before doing this, you need to give the site time to rest. You will want to evaluate what type of vegetation will start growing or resprouting on the site. Depending on the time of year the harvest occurred, it may take several months to see what is growing. Once it is clear what the competing vegetation consists of and how much of it there is, you can begin your next step of the site prep plan by determining how you will control it. There are many options to reduce competition. One method uses machinery to push over and pile up the material. Another uses a different type of machinery to chop it up to small pieces. Other options include the use of EPA-approved forestry herbicides or the application of prescribed fire. There are other methods available also, and sometimes a combination of methods may be used.
The last part of preparing the site is evaluating your soil. You may not need to manipulate the soil in any way. But there are a few things to consider. Was the last stand limited by the prior use of the site? Was the site old agricultural land in the past that may have a hardpan layer at some depth that limited tree root development in the last stand? There are management options that will fracture this hardpan and remove its limitations of the site. Is your site wet natured? Could the seedling roots be drowned by standing water? This can be remedied by using equipment to create raised beds to plant the seedlings in, to get them above the standing water. Finally, is there a lack of nutrients available on the site? A soil test can determine this, and any deficiencies can be alleviated by applying the needed fertilizer.
Site prep can be a daunting process. Forest landowners must determine which practices to apply and then coordinate with contractors to ensure the work is done correctly and in a timely manner, to stay on schedule for the replanting. Keep in mind that multiple contractors may be required to complete the site preparation and tree planting. For most landowners, working closely with an experienced professional forester will ensure a proper timeline to successfully re-establish their forest land. If you don’t have a forester you work with, contact your local Clemson Extension Office for assistance with finding one.
This article was originally featured in the Summer 2021 Version of CU in The Woods newsletter.
Tom Brant, Cooperative Extension, Forestry and Wildlife Agent
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