Viewing Trees as a Crop Increases Their Potential

May 29, 2013

LINCOLN, Neb. — When one thinks of Nebraska, corn and beef production come to mind. What people may not realize is that Nebraska has a significant and growing forest resource. Since 2005, the amount of forested acres has increased by 200,000 acres to 1.52 million acres.

Most of these forested areas, about 88 percent of them, are owned by small, private landowners.

"Unfortunately, many existing woodlands are in relatively poor condition because they are often considered to be 'waste' areas on the farm and are managed as such," said Dennis Adams, Nebraska Forest Service extension forester at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Adams said that many of these forested areas have a large potential.

"These same areas, if managed properly, could yield substantial income from the periodic sale of wood products, plus enhanced wildlife habitat, watershed protection, and other environmental benefits," he said.

By applying a few basic forestry management techniques such as thinning, weeding and pruning, the forest trees could grow to their maximum potential.

Adams prefers to look at trees as another type of crop.

"The objective of forest stand improvement practices is to distribute the total growth potential to a fewer number of desirable tree species and provide space to allow the crop trees to grow to their maximum potential ," Adams said.

Another aspect of taking care of trees is making sure that weeds are managed properly, without damaging the trees with the use of herbicides.

"Our trees are quite vulnerable to weed sprays," Adams said. "Wind carried herbicides may cause dieback of foliage and in many cases eventual death of the tree."

Adams stressed that it is important to exercise caution when using herbicides, so that it does not have unintended consequences on trees.

"Science has yet to create herbicides that can think, therefore spray goes wherever we aim it or wherever the wind carries it, and not always where we would like it," Adams said. "We have the power to direct and control spraying, and only the individual on the spraying rig has the power to shut down the spraying operation when it gets too windy."

Tips for Keeping Trees Weed-Free

– Keeping a tree weed-free the first year is critical. Competition for moisture among weeds and trees can kill younger trees because young trees rely on surface moisture to survive.

– The best time to control weeds and grasses is just before or during their seedling stage.

– Remove competing vegetation within two feet from each side of the tree row or within a four foot radius of the tree seedling using methods such as cultivation, mulches and careful use of herbicides.

– Avoid planting grasses such as bromegrass or tall fescue between tree rows. These grasses are aggressive and will compete for resources with your tree. Instead, plant less-competitive, cool-season grasses such as blue grass and rye grass, or warm-season grasses such as blue grama and side-oats grama.

Dennis Adams
Extension Forester
Nebraska Forest Service

Heather Haskins
Student Writer

Sandi Alswager Karsten
IANR News Service