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It depends

TreeTopics - Fri, 11/07/2014 - 1:04pm

Remember those Magic 8 balls where you would ask a question, shake the ball, and get an answer? I wish life were that simple.

Extension agents get a lot of questions. Some say we are notorious for always answering with “well, it depends.” As an Extension agent I’m as guilty as anyone of using “it depends”, and not because I want to dodge your question. Usually there is more than one answer; more information is needed; and ultimately, you are the one who will be able to answer your own question after more a more thorough evaluation. Here is a sampling of inquiries I’ve received by phone, email, or Ask an Expert over the past few weeks, to illustrate this.

 

“Do you have advice for the most effective strategies for killing blackberries? We want to use only as much herbicide as is really needed.”

a wall of blackberries

It depends!

How large an area needs to be treated? Is it a site prep situation, or are the trees already planted? Is there desirable vegetation intermixed with the blackberries, and if so, how much?

I hope I didn’t frustrate the askers by giving them a whole lot of questions in exchange for the single one asked. But each situation is different and the “best” strategy will depend on these and other factors. Knowing how herbicides work is critical to successful integrated pest management, which is really what the question is about.

 

“I have a few acres of pasture and I’m thinking of planting some trees and putting it in forest deferral. Is this a good idea?”

It depends!

Are the soils suitable for growing trees, and if so what kinds? Have you thought about how you will get the site ready for planting? Do you have the ability to control competing vegetation on the site for several years after planting? Are you willing to commit time and money to this effort for the next five years? Will you be able to pay back taxes should the plantation fail and forest deferral be removed?

This person got 5 questions back for the price of one. I’m not in a position to tell her whether it’s a good idea, but I can help her evaluate the answers to some of my questions.

 

“We have some big trees on our property. Should we cut them now to make sure they don’t overgrow the market?”

big logs coming into a mill

It depends!

Despite common assumptions, some mills buy big logs. Have you checked to see whether your trees are really too big? What are your overall income goals for your property? Are you thinking of removing just the biggest trees, or doing a clearcut? Which course of action, including no action, would leave the stand in better or worse condition over the long run?

 

I believe that there are no stupid questions. But don’t be surprised if the answer is “it depends”.

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Categories: TreeTopics

Woodland management in the Blue Mountains

TreeTopics - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 7:47am

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

Our tour hosts (left) with local Extension forestry agent Paul Oester

Last week I traveled to sunny Eastern Oregon for the OSU Extension Forestry team’s annual planning meeting. To kick things off, our group spent an afternoon with Tom and Cindy Beechinor, who are active forest landowners, Master Woodland Managers, and dedicated Extension supporters in the Blue Mountains above the town of Milton-Freewater. We toured the family’s 640-acre property and learned much about how they care for their land and some of the challenges they face. Some observations:

  • The Beechinors envy those of us here in northwest Oregon for the high productivity of our forest soils. On their site, 18-24 inch annual leader growth is “good”.
  • They also envy our access to markets. They mentioned Douglas-fir prices in the $300/MBF range. That’s about half of what it is on the west side! Log hauling costs are also a challenge, as the nearest mill is about 100 miles away.

    High elevation mixed conifer forest

  • On their land, situated about 4500 feet in elevation, grand fir is the most common species, followed by Engelmann spruce, although this is partly a result of early logging practices which removed the higher-value Douglas-fir and western larch. Today, through selective logging and replanting the Beechinors are attempting to convert the forest to a more diverse tree mix.
  • Anyone in our neck of the woods who has attempted to plant western redcedar in an area where deer and elk live can relate to the Beechinors’ situation with trying to grow western larch. They have planted thousands of seedlings, but most have not made it due to elk rubbing.
  • Speaking of elk, our hike through the woods was punctuated by the sounds of elk bugling all around us. For those of you who have not experienced this before, it is really something!
  • Maintaining the land’s value for elk and other wildlife is an important management objective, although this comes with a big challenge: wolves. So far, they have not experienced any livestock predation, but the Walla Walla wolf pack is known to come on to their land and they have seen evidence of elk kills. They have a good relationship with fish & wildlife officials, who can alert them as soon as a radio-collared wolf is tracked on their property. That way, they can move their cattle if needed. One challenge they’ve come across is that they no longer can use dogs to manage their livestock, because their cows are now so skittish from wolves that they don’t respond to domesticated dogs either.

All in all, it was an enlightening tour and a great introduction to this part of the state. There are opportunities for woodland owners to visit tree farms in other regions too, such as through OSWA’s annual meeting. I encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities to travel and learn about the diversity of issues, and commonalities, faced by small woodland owners across Oregon.

It’s 30 minutes to pavement through this country to the Beechinors’ property.

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Categories: TreeTopics

Mist netting photo journal

TreeTopics - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 4:30pm
Mist nets are set up in the pre-dawn light where birds move around during normal feeding activities

 

By Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension, Benton, Linn & Polk Counties

I often try to write stories that make a connection between the birds you find in a place and the habitat conditions there. Because habitat is something we can create or alter by our forest practices, this illustrates an opportunity for interested landowners to manage their properties to improve woodland habitat conditions for particular birds. While we focus on birds, it is an illustration that applies to all woodland fauna. Animals tend to be quite responsive to habitat conditions.

Birds are fun, abundant and easy to observe by watching and listening, which makes them a good group of animals for landowners to key in on. In fact, lots of what we know about birds, and how they use different places (migratory arrivals and departure, where the feed and nest) has been gained through careful observation.

But capturing and banding birds is another important tool available to researchers that lets them add another layer of information. By capturing birds, we can learn about their general condition (weight, fat reserves) gender and age distribution, that gives insight on things such as general health or their readiness for breeding or migration. And when lucky enough to recapture a banded bird, we learn valuable details about how they have moved and fared in the time between captures.

I recently caught up with a team of scientists and volunteers out in the pre-dawn light to band birds on a private woodland in Benton County. Dr. Joan Hagar, US Geological Survey Wildlife Biologist, led the team that also included scientists from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and OSU Extension. Here is a brief photo journal of the morning.

 

Disentangling captured birds is delicate work even for skilled handlers Tools of the bird-bander’s trade: a scale, ruler, pliers, and a bunch of bands

 

Captured birds rest peacefully in cloth bags awaiting banding and data collection Determining a birds and gender takes careful work. You can’t just check their driver’s license! Measured and wearing a new bracelet, this Swainson’s thrush is ready to go!

 

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Categories: TreeTopics

Propagating native shrubs from seed or cuttings

TreeTopics - Tue, 08/26/2014 - 11:50am

By Amy Grotta, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension, Columbia, Washington & Yamhill Counties, and Paul Wilson & Linda Farris, Columbia County Master Woodland Managers

Flowering currant seedlings awaiting transplant. Photo: Paul Wilson

When Paul Wilson and Linda Farris bought their small property about 10 years ago, it was a reforestation failure. But they have succeeded in beating back immense Scotch broom and other invasives and have planted a diverse mix of trees. Not stopping there, they continue adding diversity by releasing native shrubs that don’t get in the way of their planted trees, and by planting more native shrubs and herbaceous plants to occupy gaps where the invasives used to be.

Paul and Linda propagate most of their own plants from seed and cuttings, having learned over time what methods work for different species. They shared their experience on a recent Twilight Tour, and afterwards agreed to write up and share their propagation tips (in the rest of this article). Thank you Paul and Linda. If you want to try your hand at this, fall is a good time to start.

How to take cuttings (adapted from Washington Native Plant Society guidelines):

We use a very low-tech approach to propagate dormant deciduous native shrubs which come readily from cuttings.  By taking cuttings after the leaves have fallen, the cuttings focus on developing roots and require little care.

Use sharp pruning shears.  Clean shears with rubbing alcohol or a 10% bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water).

Select young straight shoots about the diameter of a pencil (except trailing snowberry, which can be thinner). Collect long branches– you will be dividing them into individual cuttings later.  Cut just above a leaf node.  As you collect, put the cuttings in a plastic bag or the ends in a bucket of water, and keep them cool, moist, and out of direct sunlight.

To prepare individual cuttings from the long branches, clean your shears again.  Cut the branches into pieces long enough to have at least three or four leaf nodes (for most species, cuttings will be about six inches long). The end of the cutting closest to the roots (the “bottom”) should be cut at a 45° angle just below a node.  To not confuse the bottom with the top of the cutting (essential), cut the top at a right angle (straight across) slightly above a node.

While not essential, for some species success is improved by dipping the bottom (angled) end of the cutting in rooting hormone (Rootone, Hormex and similar), tapping off the excess.

Fill a pot (we use 1 gal. pots or treepots depending on the length of the cutting) with an unfertilized fast-draining soil mix (and in many cases perlite, sharp sand or vermiculite alone will work but cuttings need soil after rooting).  Poke holes in the soil with a stick a bit larger than the cutting diameter, insert cuttings with at least 2 nodes in soil and 1 or 2 nodes above soil level, tamp soil and water in.  We put 5 cuttings of most species in a gallon pot.

Leave out all winter, protecting from slugs and deer in the spring.  Wait until leaf growth unfurls and gently check for substantial root development.  If you have leaves or roots but not the other reinsert the cutting and wait.  Cuttings can be transplanted to a soil mix in a larger container, or transplanted into native soil.  During a dry spring keep the rooting medium moist. During the following summer, supplemental water will improve survival and development.

Paul and Linda’s plant nursery. Woody plants under the wire frame and herbaceous perennials in the foreground. Photo: Paul Wilson

Propagation tips for individual species

Among these shrubs, red-osier dogwood, Nootka rose, cascara, snowberry, hazel, oceanspray and tall Oregon grape (in order from generally wetter to drier habitat) are ‘restoration superstars’ – they tolerate moisture fluctuations and disturbance and generally provide a higher success rate after planting. These brief propagation guidelines are adapted from Robson, Richter and Filbert, Encyclopedia of Northwest Native Plants for Gardens and Landscapes (2008).

Red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea)
Easiest from hardwood cuttings taken late fall to late winter, no hormone required.  Can also be grown from ripe fruit collected in the fall, fleshy part need not be removed unless seeds are being stored.  Plant outside to stratify over winter.

Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana)
Easiest from seed removed from hips just as they ripen, planted out for winter stratification to germinate the following spring.  Lower success from hardwood cuttings mid to late fall, treated with hormones and set to root over winter.

Oceanspray in September. Photo: OSU Dept. of Horticulture

Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor)
Easiest: hardwood cuttings in late fall or early winter, dip in rooting hormone and root in pumice or other medium.  Seeds have a low germination rate: plant thickly in fall; need cold and moisture to germinate the following spring.

Beaked hazel (Corylus cornuta)
Easiest from seed; harvest slightly green before the squirrels get them; plant in fall; need cold and moisture to germinate the following spring.

Indian plum/Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis)
Easy from seed: Collect fruit in early summer, dry the fruits, plant in fall; need cold and moisture to break dormancy and germinate the following spring.  Or, take hardwood cuttings in late winter, treat with hormone.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
Collect and clean seed, plant seed in fall; need cold and moisture to germinate the following spring.

Common snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)/Trailing snowberry (Symphoricarpos mollis)
Hardwood cuttings late fall/early winter; treat with hormone and put in soil to root.  Seed requires 2 winters to germinate.

Dwarf Oregon-grape (Berberis nervosa)/Tall Oregon-grape (Berberis aquifolium)
Collect ripe berries in summer; remove some of the pulp and plant seed soon after harvest; need cold and moisture to germinate the following spring.  Hard to grow from cuttings.

Blue Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
Hardwood cuttings mid-fall to early winter, treat with hormone and root in pumice or other medium.  Or, collect seed in late summer or fall, remove some of the pulp and plant seed soon after harvest; need cold and moisture to germinate the following spring

Bitter Cherry (Prunus emarginata)
Collect seed in late summer or fall, remove some of the pulp and plant seed in fall; need cold and moisture to germinate the following spring.  Difficult to grow from cuttings.

Cascara (Rhamnus purshiana)
Collect ripe fruit in the fall; remove some of the pulp and plant seed in fall; need cold and moisture to germinate the following spring.  Expect 2-3 seeds in each fruit.

Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)
Collect berries and remove seeds; plant seeds in flats of potting soil in fall; need cold and moisture to germinate the following spring.

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