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Growing a Diverse Forest: Steps to a Structural Diversity “Forest Makeover”

TreeTopics - Fri, 04/14/2017 - 10:49am

By Amy Grotta and Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension

Through a creative and carefully planned harvest, this mature forest has undergone a structural diversity makeover.

Continuing our series, we’ll now look at steps that woodland owners can take to enhance structural diversity in their forests.  Recall that “structural diversity” refers to the amount of three-dimensional variation in the forest. In other words, a structurally diverse forest has trees of different sizes arranged in uneven patterns across the site.

Why do we care about structural diversity? Structural diversity is important to creating an “older” or “natural” forest look that many people want on their property.

Structural diversity is also a very important part of wildlife habitat. By creating variation in the tree canopy, and creating layers of vegetation at many levels within a forest, you are creating micro-environments. These micro-environments, each with its own set of light, temperature and moisture conditions, allow different sets of plants and animals to flourish. You are setting the stage for biological diversity to develop. Raptors may perch in the upper branches of the tallest trees, while small birds that nest in thickets may find a home lower down. Light-loving shrubs will fill in the sunny openings, while mosses and lichen will be happy in the cool shade of taller trees.

To create structural diversity, we rely on all the same tools in our forest management toolbox that we use to achieve other things in our woods: planting, thinning, harvesting. We just apply them a little differently to produce a different outcome.   Many of the opportunities described below and illustrated in the graphic at the right will be familiar from our last post, since structural and species diversity often go hand in hand.

Preparing to grow a new forest: don’t clean it up too much

After a timber harvest, there will be a lot left behind: limbs and treetops (slash), and sometimes logs with too little value to take to the mill. Part of site preparation involves getting these residues out of the way to make room to plant new trees. Often slash is piled and burned, but leaving those logs and even a few of these piles creates instant structure. They will decompose over decades, providing a shelter for critters and slowly evolving into a substrate for new plants. Check out this article for some great how-to’s and cautions.

Planting a new forest

Since a diversity of tree and shrub species can also greatly enhance future structural diversity by creating different textures or layers in the forest, the steps at planting outlined in our previous post can do double duty.

Tending a developing forest: thin early, thin often and change it up

While a diverse forest is an appealing image to many small woodland owners, what they often actually have is a uniform forest of trees roughly the same size and spacing. In these situations, thinning is the best opportunity to enhance structural diversity.

From top to bottom, examples of young, intermediate and mature conifer forests with low structural diversity

You can use thinning early in the life of a forest to create both horizontal and vertical structure (recall the cookie metaphor for definitions). Some specific ideas for making your forest more structurally diverse through thinning include:

  • Thin early to promote layers of plants on the forest floor.
  • Mix it up with a variable density (rather than uniform) thinning strategy:
    • Leave some areas dense or even unthinned.
    • Thin some other areas heavily to grow big trees and promote regeneration of new trees.
  • Be messy. Leave snags and dead wood behind.
Grand fir started to seed in this stand after an earlier thinning. Structural diversity could be improved by removing a small patch of overstory trees (like the three in the foreground), releasing the trees beneath them.

Opportunities in an older, maturing forest are to create gaps and leave legacies.   If you find a group of young, shade-tolerant trees coming up on the forest floor, you can create a small gap to give them room to grow. Or you can cut a patch and plant it with shade tolerant species such as western hemlock or grand fir to create another canopy layer. Both of these things could be part of a regularly planned thinning harvest.


Any harvest is a chance to enhance the structural diversity of the future forest. Leaving dead wood (both standing and down) is particularly beneficial for wildlife.  If doing a clearcut harvest, you can also leave some live trees, in groups or islands when possible.  Good candidates include trees that are hard to access, have defects, or are intermixed with snags you wish to protect. Even if they blow down, the downed wood is another important structural legacy.

We hope this series has given you some new ideas about how to enhance your woodland diversity and enrich your experience as a landowner. There is lots more information out there to help you work out the details.  Here are a few:

This is an excellent publication from WSU Extension, Diversifying Forest Structure to Promote Wildlife Biodiversity in Western Washington Forests (written for our neighbors to the north, but just as applicable to western Oregon).

Wildlife in Managed Forests: Oregon Forests as Habitat published by Oregon Forest Resources Institute

Woodland Fish and Wildlife Publications

Alternative Forest Management series in the OSU Extension Catalog


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Categories: TreeTopics

Opportunities to enhance species diversity in small woodlands

TreeTopics - Wed, 04/12/2017 - 12:27pm

By Amy Grotta and Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension

Our previous installment of this series introduced the key elements of forest diversity. Species diversity (a.k.a. compositional or biological diversity) is one of those elements.  So how do you achieve it, especially if what you are starting out with is a plantation forest with only a few species? The transition to an older forest with many plant species will not happen quickly. However, at every stage in a forest’s life cycle, there are opportunities and choices one can make to move the needle to a more species-rich forest.

The rest of this article and the accompanying infographic takes us through these choices, stage by stage.

Preparing to grow a new forest: have more than zero tolerance for shrubs

One of your best chances to grow a more diverse mature forest is on a just-logged site, even before you plant any new trees. This is (perhaps ironically) often one of the most diverse stages in forest development, when many sun-loving leafy plants show up.  They provide important food and cover for many birds and other animals. The trick is to balance this vegetation with the needs of growing tree seedlings.  You’ll still need to establish a stand of young trees successfully to meet Forest Practices rules. We’ll look at this stage again later in another article.

After logging, there are typically still native shrubs left behind. Sure, they may have taken a beating, but most will rebound if given the chance. So as you prepare the site for planting, whether with herbicides or machinery, you can intentionally save (choose to keep) some of these shrubs to meet your diversity objectives. Some specific strategies:

  • Identify and mark the shrubs you want to preserve. Consider keeping them in scattered clumps and “sacrificing” the space they occupy, rather than planting trees there.
  • Be selective in the species that you preserve, choosing those that won’t quickly outgrow planted trees. For example, Oregon-grape, cascara, and oceanspray grow slowly, while salmonberry and thimbleberry spread quickly. Bigleaf maple clumps are too competitive for most objectives/situations and should be controlled.
  • Use spot sprays of herbicide instead of a broadcast spray.
  • Evaluate what vegetation is growing on the site, and choose an herbicide strategy that targets the worst competitors while leaving desired vegetation. For example, you could select an herbicide that controls grasses, thistles and other non-woody weeds but is easier on shrubs. Consult product labels and the PNW Weed Management Handbook for guidance.
  • Keep a close eye on things, and quickly take steps to correct a situation if things look like they are getting out of hand.
Young planted trees getting along nicely with broadleaf plants. The dead clumps are bigleaf maples controlled with herbicide.

Establishing a new forest: species and spacing choices

Planting multiple species of trees may seem like an obvious strategy to increase species diversity. Yet it’s not as simple as mixing up the seedlings across your planting site if you want to keep that diversity long-term. Trees all have different growth habits and growth rates. When trees of different growth habits are closely mingled, the faster growing tree tends to win out.  Red alder and Douglas-fir are a good example (see illustration). Plant clumps of individual species rather than an intimate mixture to reduce competition, make subsequent tending of the stand easier, and keep diversity longer. If one of your motivations for having a diverse forest is to have a resilient forest, then keeping a mix of species in the canopy may be important.

Fast-growing alder will overtop and kill neighboring Douglas-fir (top). Instead, plant these species in groups (bottom)

Work with, not against, your site, and use microsites as a “palette” on which to paint your species choices. For example, plant wet areas to cedar, alder, or even ash.

The other planting decision you can use to enhance diversity is tree spacing. By planting trees further apart (say at 12-foot instead of 10-foot), you are giving more room and time for shrubs to re-establish. You can also resist the urge to come back in and replant spots where seedlings did not make it (as long as you’ve met Forest Practices Act reforestation requirements). Instead, allow hardwoods to fill in small gaps.

Tending a young forest: stay proactive

Your job of growing diversity is not done after planting.  Invasive weeds and crowding are two things to keep an eye on.  Some specific tips:

  • Stay on top of invasive weeds before the canopy closes. Resist the temptation to leave blackberries or scotch broom to get shaded out once tree crowns touch. Unfortunately, shade is not a particularly selective form of weed control: by the time the weeds get shaded out, so will many of the understory plants you desire.
  • Extend the life of your understory by thinning early and often.
  • Thinning also is an opportunity to diversify the tree canopy, by choosing to leave behind “underrepresented” species. Thin around and release oaks, madrone, true firs, and any other minor species, as long as they are vigorous. (Don’t try to release suppressed trees that won’t respond to thinning.)

Harvest: leave a legacy

A mature forest can have many kinds of plants growing in the understory that you want to keep. When it comes time to do a timber sale, how can you carry that diversity into the next-generation forest? This is your opportunity to leave legacies.

  • Retain some hardwood trees. Better to leave a single-stemmed bigleaf maple than to cut it and deal with the inevitable stump sprouts.
  • Mark and protect clumps of native shrubs.

The bottom line with all of this is that growing a multi-species forest does not have to be a revolutionary form of forest management. As illustrated above, you can be opportunistic, make proactive decisions, and even small tweaks to your management practices to maintain and enhance species diversity according to your interests. This article provides some ideas, which you can tailor for your own forest. You might want to talk with a professional forester, including your local Extension agent, to design a site-specific strategy.

The next post in this series will look at structural diversity (the other major aspect of forest diversity), and ways to achieve it.

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Categories: TreeTopics

Recipes for Growing a Diverse Forest

TreeTopics - Tue, 04/04/2017 - 12:28pm

Brad Withrow-Robinson and Amy Grotta, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension.


Many landowners are interested in growing a diverse forest as discussed in the previous post.  Their reasons may include having an attractive woodland retreat, providing habitat for wildlife or having a more resilient forest.  Whatever the reason, knowing what different parts of forest diversity look like is a key step towards getting it.

There are several key parts to diversity: those things that grow and live in a forest, how those things are arranged and when those things happen. Each is shaped or influenced by the physical environment (like soils or elevation) and natural processes (like competition, storms or fire).  Many kinds of diversity can also be enriched by us.

Probably the first thing people think about as diversity is the number and types of plants and animals in the forest. Certainly, what is growing in the forest (the species composition) is an important part of diversity.  A mix of trees which includes cedar and maple along with Douglas-fir is more diverse than monocrop of Douglas-fir alone in the forest canopy.  You can think of the different kinds of plants as the building blocks of a forest, or maybe better, ingredients in a recipe.  An oatmeal raisin cookie is more diverse than an oatmeal cookie.  But not twice as much.  There are many ingredients in cookies that go unobserved or unseen.  While trees are the most obvious and the defining elements of the forest (like the oatmeal and raisins), understory plants, soil microorganisms, fungi, and other elements play less glamorous but essential roles (like the flour, sugar and baking powder) in making the cookie a cookie.



Another easily observed feature of diversity is the forest’s structure, or how things are arranged.   Looking up and down you may see one or more layers of vegetation from the tree canopy to the leafy plants growing on the forest floor.  Looking at these layers, you are looking at the vertical diversity.  An Oreo cookie has more of it than our oatmeal cookie does. This structure affects how the woods look, but also how things work. Having more vertical diversity can be visually appealing.  And because different animals use different parts of this vertical forest structure to forage, roost or nest, it may mean more types of animals using your woods too.


Likewise, looking side to side we can see the texture of the forest (its horizontal diversity).  The woods may be quite uniform throughout, with little difference from place to place.  Or the woods may be uneven, with groups or patches of different things scattered about. These could  be areas with different ages, sizes or species of trees. To picture this horizontal diversity, let’s think about cookies with a similar variety of ingredients but different horizontal structure: chocolate and chocolate chip.  Chocolate cookies are uniform throughout, but chocolate chip cookies are patchy, and more diverse. Like vertical structure, this horizontal structure provides different conditions that may be visually appealing or suit different animals.

Perhaps the least obvious part of woodland diversity is time, or perhaps better, processes that take time. It may be cheating a bit to include time as part of diversity, but as an observer of nature and care-taker of a woodland, it is important for you to recognize its impact on the different parts of diversity.   Some kinds of diversity can happen quickly, others just take time to develop.  Cookie dough is great, but it is not a cookie until it has spent some time in the oven.

Imagine a riparian restoration plantation along a stream. You can quickly create species diversity by planting a mix of species, and horizontal diversity by planting patches of different trees or shrubs rather than blending them together. However, to get vertical diversity with layers including large trees (desired to shade more of the stream longer and/or have large logs to fall in the steam), you need decades, maybe even a century or more for that to fully develop.

As a landowner, you have many opportunities (such as planting, controlling invasives or thinning) to shape your woodland property.  Each is a choice between paths that take you to different destinations, with different outcomes, depending on the recipe you pick. We hope this introduction will help you choose a path to your destination. Coming up in our next article: specific steps you can take to enhance your woodland’s diversity according to you objectives.

But now, it is time for a cup of coffee. And a cookie!

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Categories: TreeTopics

Growing a Diverse Forest: Choosing your path

TreeTopics - Mon, 04/03/2017 - 2:45pm

Brad Withrow-Robinson and Amy Grotta, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension.

We often hear from landowners that that they want a diverse, natural-looking forest. Their reasons vary.  Some folks are aware of the many ecological benefits that diversity brings to a woodland property, while others may have been inspired by the beauty of an old growth forest.

Old growth forest at HJ Andrews Experimental Forest, Blue River OR

Of course, it takes centuries for an old growth forest to develop and many of our readers have young stands planted within the last decade or two that may look more like this:

Young D-fir plantation in foothills of the Coast Range

So how do you move from one situation to another?

Happily, a landowner has many ways to influence and encourage diversity in their woodlands. Even if you have just bought some recently cut-over land, it does not have to remain a simple timber plantation if you do not want it to be.  You can grow a diverse forest.  And it can be done within decades rather than centuries.  No, it will not be old growth, but it may help reach many of the diversity-related objectives landowners commonly mention, including an attractive forest setting, better habitat for a variety of animals and a resilient forest.

A network of paths leads from any starting point in a woodland’s development. Each crossing is an event or decision that leads in a different direction and towards a different woodland condition.

In this series, we will be exploring the pathways to a diverse forest in western Oregon. These ideas also apply to an oak woodland, a riparian forest as well as an upland conifer-dominated forest.  In our next post we look at what makes a forest diverse and why it matters.  In later posts we will consider turns you can take throughout the life of the forest to restore, enhance and maintain woodland diversity to match your particular objectives.

Another view of pathways, incorporating competitive zones leading to certain outcomes.


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Tree seedling supply remains uncertain

TreeTopics - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 10:42am

Jen Gorski, OSU Forestry and Natural Resources Extension, Clackamas County

Oregon forest landowners and Christmas tree growers are having difficulty locating seedlings to buy.

In response, the Oregon Department of Forestry, OSU Extension and other partners are working hard to identify and solve the problems limiting the supply. It’s not an easy fix; many pieces account for the problems and the solutions.

OSU Clackamas County Extension hosted a meeting in January to discuss the seedling supply. Landowners revealed that certain species or stock types are not always available within a year of planting. This presents some uncertain choices and potential compromise. One year plugs may be available in lieu of 1-1 transplants (2 year old seedlings). The 1-1 transplants have a fibrous root system and a track record of success in challenging conditions. However, future survival of one year plugs is uncertain.

This is not an entirely new problem. There has been a perennial issue for those who wish to order fewer than 20,000 seedlings, the minimum contract order for many nurseries. Consequently, the Clackamas County Farm Forestry Association (CCFFA) and some other OSWA chapters provide the opportunity for their members to batch small orders together and order collectively.

There are many reasons for the current seedling supply situation. These include capacity loss during the recession, shifting management practices and demand following fire.

Part of the challenge is this: producing bareroot seedlings (still the industry mainstay) takes over two years of lead time. Nurseries have to supply all the costly resources at the front end: picking the cones or fruit, cleaning the seed, pre-treating then sowing the seed, and growing/transplanting the seedlings. Timber companies are ordering 2+ years ahead. Small forest landowners and Christmas tree growers may need to get used to the idea of ordering that far ahead as well.


Strategies and Resources

Communicate with the ODF and partners working on this issue! Making your concern and any challenges you’ve had finding seedlings known will help focus our joint effort.

In the meantime, here are some resources to work with when looking for seedlings.

The ODF November 2016 publication, Sources of Native Forest Nursery Seedlings,  provides an up-to-date list of regional nurseries who sell seed and seedlings.

Alternatively, Bob McNitt’s Forest Seedling Network,  is a website in which nurseries can list their available stock online that a user can search to find what they need. It showcases a very useful seed zone map in which you locate your planting site, and get your seed zone number with a list of seedling suppliers and their contact info.

A new website has just come online for ordering tree seedlings. It has been developed by Mike Taylor, also the manager of IFA

A bench of Douglas-fir plugs

Nurseries in Canby. Because of the high need for small quantities of seedlings, this website has been created to bundle small orders together to obtain quantities greater than 20,000. Mike is behind-the-curtain, serving a great market need with his expertise. Visit Saplings, Inc.,. One can order now for winter of 2018-2019, and down the road, the system may help connect people to future seedling supplies.

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Getting work done in the woods: hiring a chemical applicator

TreeTopics - Mon, 01/09/2017 - 4:43pm

Brad Withrow-Robinson, Forestry & Natural Resources Extension Agent, Benton, Linn and Polk Counties.

Many landowners depend on professional operators to help get things done on their property.  This includes weed control. Finding the right person for the job is important. The process starts with knowing what you are looking for.

Good weed control is a boon to seedling survival

Like most forestry management practices, weed control is actually a mix of different activities. Depending on what you know and can do yourself, hiring a chemical applicator means you are actually looking to hire a mix of knowledge and skill, equipment and labor.

It is important to get this right. Otherwise you may waste money or injure your trees.  Worse still, it could mean causing damage to the environment or a neighbors’ crops, either of which would create a liability issue for you.

So how do you go about selecting the right chemical applicator for you? In conversations with some forestry professionals and landowners recently, it all boiled down to communicating about needs and expectations.  Here are some key questions and things to discuss before hiring a chemical applicator to work on your property.

Questions to ask potential providers:

What are your qualifications?

Before you hire anyone to apply chemicals, you want to know that they are qualified to do the job well, legally, safely and will not

create a liability for you. Here are some specific things to talk about:

  • Ask to see their commercial and/or consulting applicators license and proof of business insurance. Are they current?
  • Ask about their forestry application experience. Who have they worked for? What types of application have they done?
  • Ask about their familiarity with ODF forest practice rules for spraying buffers, weather restrictions, record keeping, and using restricted herbicides such as atrazine.
  • Are they up to speed on training their workers about the new worker protection standards?
  • Are they qualified to develop spray prescriptions? 

What services do you provide?

 It is important that you be clear about the services you are looking for so you can determine if the operator has the knowledge,

Herbicides applied to cut surfaces (here with marker dye) is an effective way to control many shrubs and stump sprouts.

equipment and staff needed for your job.

Specific herbicides are used in many different situations such as site preparation (before) or release (after planting) to control both leafy and woody plants. It can be done in different ways including broadcast spray, spot or directed spray, “hack and squirt” or stump treatment and using different tools such as backpack, vehicle mounted sprayers or squirt bottle.  The right combination and approach

(generally referred to as the “prescription”) depends on the season, type of weed and crop tree species.

  • Clarify what parts of the job you are doing yourself and what you are hiring for – developing the prescription, doing the application, or maybe both. Does that match their qualifications?
  • What types of application can they do and what equipment do they use?
  • Who will provide the chemicals for the job?
  • Who will submit the “Notice of Operation” to the Oregon Department of Forestry for the application? You or them?

How will work be done?

  • Ask about their workforce (number and size of crews). What experience and certification does the foreman overseeing your job have?
  • Will they be able to get your job done in the timeframe that it needs to be sprayed?
  • What photos or maps do they need from you to make sure they and their crew understand exactly where to spray?
  • Will the operator provide you with official chemical application records in a timely manner? These include specific chemicals, location and rates at which they were applied, information on weather conditions during application, etc.


How will I be charged for your services?

There are a variety of ways to work this out. It is important that you communicate expectations and reach a clear agreement up front.

Herbicide damage to seedlings and other non-targets should be avoided.

Shop around for bids and check references.

  • Ask how they charge. Itemized by time, travel and materials, or by the acre?
  • Ask about billing and when is payment due.
  • Do they guarantee their work? Will they come back and fix something if it isn’t done right? How will you determine satisfactory service?
  • Get an estimate for the job.

 Where to look for a chemical applicator

The list of qualified chemical applicators in an area is constantly changing. Here are some ways to find potential operators.

  • Your local landowner association!
    • Ask other landowners who they use and any issues they have had to deal with.
  • Ask a neighboring industrial forester if they could share contacts for applicators they use
  • State Department of Forestry and Extension offices
    • Although they cannot make specific recommendations, both may be able to provide a list of applicators in your area.

There you have it, my short list of questions to think about before calling potential spray operators and some things to discuss when talking to them. I hope it is helpful.  Did I miss something important that you have learned?  Let me know.

My thanks to Jeff Classen (ODF), Shaney Emerson (Helena Chemical), Rita Adams (Benton County landowner) and the others who shared their ideas on this.

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Categories: TreeTopics

5 ways to abuse your tree seedlings (and how to avoid them)

TreeTopics - Fri, 01/06/2017 - 3:24pm

By Amy Grotta, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension – Columbia, Washington & Yamhill Counties

Tree planting season is upon us. Once the deep freeze departs western Oregon woodland owners will be heading out, shovels and seedlings in hand, to plant the next generation of forests.  The saying “green side up” implies that tree planting isn’t rocket science; but inevitably, come late summer some people will return their planting sites to find that their trees didn’t fare so well.  Weather and other uncontrollable factors cause seedling mortality some years more than others.  But, it’s also easy to unintentionally harm your trees before they even get in the ground. So before you go to a seedling sale this year to pick up a few trees, here are some common cases of seedling abuse and how to avoid perpetrating them.

A balmy sunny day might entice you outdoors, but it’s not ideal weather for tree planting.

#1: Heating them up. Transporting trees in the heated cab of your vehicle, leaving the seedling bags in a place that receives direct sunlight, or too close to a heat source are all ways seedlings can quickly heat up and become stressed. Consider bringing along a large cooler, some bags of ice, or some other type of insulating material to the sale. Once home, store the seedlings outside in deep shade or along a north wall or unheated overhang, but also not exposed to sub-freezing temperatures.

#2: Drying them out. Exposing the roots to drying air is another no-no.  This can happen if you leave the planting bag open, or if you take seedlings out of their bag and carry them around the planting site without their roots protected.  Misting the roots with a spray bottle or dipping them in water when transferring them from one container to another is a good practice.  Cover the roots with something moist in whatever container you are using to carry seedlings from one planting spot to the next.

#3: Drowning them. On the other hand, don’t leave the seedlings in a bucket of water. They’re not cut flowers!

#4: Waiting too long. Trees undergo a pulse of root growth in the winter before budbreak and shoot growth begins in the spring. If you plant too late in the season, you will have missed that root growth window and your newly planted seedling will grow lots of new foliage without enough root mass to support its water needs. Plant as soon as possible after your site is prepared and in good condition for planting.

At the end of the first summer post-planting, without any vegetation management

#5: Neglect. If you’re relying on non-chemical weed control, you’ll want to revisit your site for the first maintenance sooner than you think, or you may not be able to find your seedlings! Time your herbicide treatments carefully during the first year  to optimize weed response and minimize damage to seedlings. Consult the Forestry chapter of the PNW Weed Management Handbook for guidance.

Now, I’m expecting someone to respond to this article telling me about the time they got behind schedule and planted the only seedlings they could get their hands on in the middle of May after they had sat neglected behind the barn for three weeks, and then they didn’t get around to spraying that year and lo and behold, they all survived and are doing great!  (It’s like those of us that were kids before the 1980’s, without being strapped into car seats or bike helmets!)  I’ve heard stories like this before. And with some luck, this could happen to you. But why take chances? Treat the next generation of your forest as you would the next generation of your family, and at least you’ll have the peace of mind that you’ve done everything you could to get them off to a good start in life.

For more tips on successful tree planting, refer to The Care and Planting of Tree Seedlings on Your Woodland or the even more thorough Guide to Reforestation in Oregon.

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