Our current batch of tree planting was supposed to be ‘slash and stash.’ Sometimes our trees get the full spa treatment, while others are stuffed into the ground and left to fend for themselves. It depends largely upon where they go, and whether you can get resources to them. 

We have an upper meadow at the very west end of the property. It’s a lovely little clearing bordered on our side by pines and maple saplings. It’s only detraction is the neighboring parcel, which is, sadly, very poorly managed by clueless folks, who dream of growing a feed-plot for deer. In reality, they are using every chemical known to man to breed monster weeds. (That brown line on the left isn’t a natural feature.) We have long wanted to plant some kind of wind break on the lot line, to minimize what blows from their direction. But, the meadow is at the top of the property, up steep hills, and accessible only by foot. This year we planned on putting about 25 trees there–in a quick, stuff-them-in-and-cross-your-fingers kind of installation. (Lugging tools, soil amendment, cages, stakes and water isn’t a realistic option.)

Two things changed our minds about how we’d go about planting there, this year. First, we’d always assumed the soils were bad, like the sloped areas on most of the property. We were wrong. The first scoop of a spade revealed lovely, loamy, deep topsoil. Suddenly this was an area that deserved a better approach–even perhaps the full orchard treatment. The second thing was that Rick was determined to blaze a trail up there. We’ve been scoping out a route for years. So while I walked up to the prep for planting, he spent a day cutting a trail the Kubota could handle. I didn’t think he’d be able to do it. I was wrong, again. I was scalping the tree sites, when he came, literally, roaring into view.

Tractor access is a game-changer. It means we can haul water, soil amendments and tools. It means that the upper meadow will become another hazelnut orchard. It means that there’s no excuse not to do our best. It also means three days of work, instead of one. We treated it like a celebration. And then we got to work.

Each tree location gets scalped (I hate that it’s called that–but that’s the term the soil conservation folks use.) It means that you loosen the soil and remove any weeds and plants that would compete with your tree. In our case, that’s especially important because the main competition is our arch nemesis, spotted knapweed. So we clear a two foot circle, and weed a bit out from that. After scalping, amendment is added, for nutrients and for organic matter, to help the soil retain moisture. Then the tree is planted, watered, caged (to slow the rabbits down) and mulched. The full spa treatment. The last thing we do is to wrap the top edge of the cage in light-colored survey ribbon. It looks other-worldly, but we’ve found that if we don’t wrap, the deer can’t see the cages at night, and they stumble-over them, crushing the cages, and often, killing the tree. 


Christo’s perforations

We use pine needles for mulch. They block weeds, and help hold moisture. They also help to acidify our alkaline soils. We started doing it because we have a lot of pine needles, conveniently located. Free is good. We like the needles from white pines best. They are softer, less prickly, and easier to rake. We only take the top layer–last year’s needle drop–leaving the older accumulation to protect the soil under the pine trees. We’re picky about our scrounging.


A tiny tree in its cage.

Recently, an article in the Washington Post told the story of a cottage industry in North Carolina that forages, cleans, bags and sells premium pine needles for the upscale mulch market. It’s so sought after, that there are even varmints who’ll poach pine needles illegally from other’s pine plots. (Say that fast.) They’re seeking legislative relief to make it a crime to poach pine needles! Who knew? It turns out we’re trendy!

So, the wind break is planted. Twenty-seven trees. That means that so far, we’re up to 134 trees for this year’s planting season. Only seventy-three to go. We’re getting tired, but we’re beginning to see the end in sight.