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#07-115 April 16, 2007

Spring planting of longleaf pine feasible under certain conditions

Longleaf pine restoration has increased greatly over the last decade, largely through the activities of the Longleaf Alliance and its members. According to the Alliance, about a million acres have been planted in longleaf pine since the advent of the group in 1995. That represents about a 33 percent increase from the 3 million acres or so that remained a decade ago. Unfortunately, some of the original longleaf acreage was being lost at the same time.

While tree planting has historically been a winter activity, over the last few years the Longleaf AllianceLongleaf pine and its members have found that containerized longleaf seedlings can be successfully planted practically year-round if conditions are suitable. Mark Hainds, research coordinator for the Longleaf Alliance, says that the key factors are quality seedlings, soil moisture, vegetative competition and proper planting techniques. “As long as you are planting in an area without significant competition from other plants,” Hainds said, “and have adequate soil moisture, longleaf can be planted year-round and with good survival, if good quality containerized seedlings are used and the seedlings are planted properly.”

Johnny Stowe, heritage preserve manager for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ Pee Dee Region and an avid member of the Longleaf Alliance, followed Haind’s advice and planted 8,500 containerized longleaf seedlings on April 4, 2006, at Longleaf Pine Heritage Preserve/Wildlife Management Area in Lee County. According to Stowe, he planted the seedlings on heavy, seasonally wet soils under widely scattered, mature longleaf and pond pine. The site had been burned a few weeks before, and the groundcover was and is mainly herbaceous. A year later, survival appears to be almost 100 percent. Although some of the seedlings are not robust, they all have good color and appear healthy. Others of the seedlings were quite robust and very healthy looking.

“When we planted the seedlings we had good soil moisture,” Stowe said, “and through years of intensive management we had reduced the hardwood competition. When we got the tract it had been fire suppressed since Hurricane Hugo, and as a result, trees like red maple, water oak, and sweetgum, as well as wax myrtle, fetterbush and other shrubs, had invaded and dominated the site. When we knocked them back through herbicide application and carefully implemented and very hot prescribed fires, we got back the native bunchgrasses and forbs we wanted. We planted in between these patches of herbaceous plants, and only in spots where the trees were not dense. Longleaf is the most shade intolerant of all the Southern pines, and so lots of sunlight is critical.” Stowe pointed out that the S.C. Carolina Forestry Commission, especially Warden English Cooper, was instrumental in helping to restore fire to this preserve.

Stowe said that the prime quality of the containerized longleaf seedlings he got from Lewis Hay, owner of Oak Grove Nursery in Charleston County, was also a vital factor in the project’s success. “Lewis ruthlessly culls these seedlings to ensure that every one of them is healthy,” Stowe said. “Starting with top-quality planting stock makes a big difference in survival and growth.” Stowe said that another important factor was having a good tree planting crew. “Randy Stone of Stone Forestry always provides good crews,” he said.
“All else equal, I prefer to plant in the fall, given adequate soil moisture, in order to allow time for root growth over winter before spring competition and possible drought set in,” Stowe said. “But planting in April worked fine in this situation.”

John McGuire, the Longleaf Alliance’s outreach coordinator, emphasized the importance of the S.C. Department of Natural Resource’s longleaf work. “The Alliance depends heavily on cooperators like the S.C. Department of Natural Resources,” he said. “In addition to private conservation organizations and landowners, state and federal agencies are vital to our success. The work South Carolina DNR has done over the past decade in restoring longleaf on the lands it manages, as well as ardently promoting longleaf restoration in its magazine, South Carolina Wildlife, ranks among the most significant accomplishments we have seen. Not only is the department restoring and protecting a key part of the state’s natural heritage, but its economic andcultural heritage as well, since longleaf and its partner, woods-fire, played a significant role in the state’s economic vitality and history.”
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