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Direct Seeding Tree Planting


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We are a few years out from ever doing this on our own farm, but has anyone else done one of these? We've been planting bareroots and rootmaker grown trees on hillsides, areas that we don't want to disc due to erosion troubles. But someday doing a direct seeding could be a great way to establish a few acres of trees at one time vs planting LOTS of bareroot seedlings!

Here is a nice short article on Direct Seeding Native Hardwoods
Direct Seeding of Native Hardwoods

Direct seeding of native hardwood trees
An innovative approach to hardwood regeneration

Establishing hardwood trees by sowing seed is a relatively new method that has several advantages over traditional planting of seedlings.

Advantages over seedling planting
- Better and quicker establishment: Direct seeding establishes thousands of seedlings per acre rather than hundreds per acre with traditional planting.
- Trees reach "crown closure" and begin shading out grass and weed competition earlier. Follow-up grass and weed control typically only needs to be done for two years after seeding, instead of eight to 12 years with planting.
- Higher quality timber: Greater density of seedlings forces trees to grow straighter due to side competition from nearby stems. Competition decreases pruning needs and produces higher quality hardwood saw logs.
- Better use of natural selection: Trees best suited to a particular site will dominate because of large numbers of seed and species.
- Better adaptation to variations in site conditions: Small variances in site conditions aren't planned for when planting seedlings. With direct seeding, species and specimens best suited will take over in each area.
- More natural appearance: Direct seeding is a much closer approximation of mother nature's hardwood establishment method than seedling planting in rows.
- Better ability to withstand animal predation: Animals such as deer, while still causing damage by browsing, will be less likely to devastate a direct seeding than a traditional seedling plantation due to far greater stems per acre.

Potential disadvantages or problems with direct seeding
- Higher initial cost: Establishing seeds may be somewhat higher than planting seedlings ($500/ acre vs. $350/ acre average). Keep in mind, however, that part of the higher cost can often be offset by government cost-share assistance or by collecting some seed yourself or doing your own tillage. - --- Follow-up care costs will be compressed into the first two to three years, but may total a bit less than with seedling planting, due to earlier crown closure.
- Inconsistent seed availability: Seed for inconsistent seed-producing trees like red oak may not be available every year. Some years, supplemental seedling planting or delay of direct seeding may be necessary for oaks or other species.
- Site accessibility: Direct seeding requires access by site preparation machinery, so some very steep sites and sites already wooded do not lend themselves to establishment by direct seeding. Seedlings will need to continue as the regeneration method of choice for these sites.

Direct seeding methods

Site preparation:
Sites covered by grass must be clipped in mid August to early September. The grass is then allowed to grow back several inches and is killed with a broadcast treatment of herbicide. After dieback, the field must be tilled black. As an alternative, discing a number of times through the summer is best. If a site is in an annual crop such as oats, corn. or soybeans, a light discing is all that is necessary, unless field was "no-till" drilled, then a heavy discing or chisel plowing followed by discing. In either case, grass waterways and contour strips should be left to minimize erosion. Apply a preemergent herbicide in fall or spring for annual grass control. Contact local forester for advice.

Seed collection and storage:
Seed collection and storage is often more than a landowner can tackle alone. Knowledge of characteristics of many kinds of seed (ripening times, moisture and storage requirements, etc.) is a must. There are vendors who sell seed from experienced collectors. This is often the best method for landowners to obtain viable, high-quality seed. If landowners wish to collect seed on their own, they should contact their local forester for species specific handling and storage advice.
Collecting Seed for Hardwood Tree Establishment


First, large seed - acorns, walnuts, hickory nuts—are typically broadcast with a fertilizer spreader over the entire field and then disced in to a depth of 1 to 2 inches. The lighter seed—ash, maple, cherry (and shrubs if any)—is broadcast and dragged in lightly.

Weed control:
Controlling grass and weed competition until seedlings reach "crown closure" (which often happens in year 3) is crucial to the success of any seeding project. If weeds are not controlled, tree seedlings will be out competed for moisture and sunlight. Typically a pre- or post-emergent herbicide is used early in the first season and a post-emergent herbicide is used later in the first year. If broadleaf weeds become a problem in year one, mow the area high, above the top of tree seedlings. A pre- or post-emergent herbicide application will be needed in year two. The area will need to be scouted often in order to determine weed control needs. Contact your local forester for specific herbicide recommendations.

Many sites would benefit from the addition of some understory shrubs for diversity and wildlife habitat. Grey and red-osier dogwood, chokecherry, highbush cranberry, wild plum, nannyberry, blackberry elder, and American and beaked hazel are some common shrub species in much of Minnesota. Your forester will know which species will fit your site. Shrubs in direct seeding are relatively untried and are subject to failures due to seed handling problems and herbicide damage until more is known. Addition of shrubs will also raise costs. Establishing hardwood trees by sowing seed is a relatively new method that has several advantages over traditional planting of seedlings.
Ive thought about this as well in pasture ground, but how does a guy keep all the deer from nipping off your fresh oaks etc?
It works.....sort of. I have helped someone do it when we had that huge acorn crop a few years ago in Michigan. It was all acorns collected in trash barrels. The "broadcasting" was by hand (drive around and throw them all over) and then get everything worked up.

The acorns that weren't found by the critters grew into trees, but it takes so long for oaks the grow that I think there are much better options.

I have pondered cutting a bunch of cedars and dragging them around a field with chain & tractor. That seems like a sure fire way to spread seed and have some great cover much quicker. Sounds silly, but I think that might actually work....?
Ive thought about this as well in pasture ground, but how does a guy keep all the deer from nipping off your fresh oaks etc?

I think the idea is to have 1000s of trees sprout and the deer can't get them all. Sure they'll get some but the strong will eventually push past their browse line... and then they'll have to survive the rubbing during the rut. :eek: It seems that growing trees always has its challenges, no matter what method you choose.

I like the idea behind this and have been looking to see if anyone in the midwest has done this with oaks and had good luck. So far I'm not finding much but will continue looking. It seems like it is a semi-new method of establishing trees and not much testing/research has been done.
I have done it on smaller scales like doing an acre or two of them at a time and that's not enough they will get browsed every year. Last year I finally selected individual trees from the planting and tubed them and they took off.
On a side note I did disk the area broadcasted and then lightly dirked again.
I have done it on smaller scales like doing an acre or two of them at a time and that's not enough they will get browsed every year. Last year I finally selected individual trees from the planting and tubed them and they took off.
On a side note I did disk the area broadcasted and then lightly dirked again.

Excellent feedback! This is what I was afraid of. It'd be just like a soybean food plot I imagine, most people the deer just mow they off during the summer if they aren't protected and you're left with nothing.

Some people say to DS acorns in rows and put a LOT of acorns in the row, but to me that seems like it'd be even easier for the deer to feed on them. For us, we are able to grow soybeans for the deer, they don't get browsed too heavily. We just don't have the high deer density like many of you guys. So we may be we could get by with trying one of these. :confused: And like you said, eventually just tube the good ones if the deer aren't letting them grow and they'll have such an established root system that they will take off!
When I was younger I remember a farm we hunted where the farmer literally hand planted thousands of acorns. After 20 years, none of those areas look much different today unfortunately.

Now, in areas where is planted trees that were started and tubed them, its amazing.
I've done 3 of these and helped do many more. Success depends entirely on what you do after the oaks emerge. You MUST tube or preferably cage each tree you want to save. We have discovered best way to do this is to nut seed the walnut and we used to do ash as a trainer but now I think you just do walnut a little heavier because of ash borer. You do this nut seeding in the fall. The following spring get a tree planter and plant seedlings; oak, cherry and whatever else you want, right into the seeding but spread them way out. Like 20ft.wide rows with seedlings 20 ft. apart and then cage or tube every one. Your seedlings will have a jump on the walnut and believe me they will need it in the 3rd or 4th year when the walnut start to fly. There just is no really easy way to establish oak, but it's worth it!! You do have to get used to cutting beautiful walnut seedlings out from around your oaks, but I learned to love doing it, you'll have plenty of walnut anyway. We're doing 10 acres of this on my nephew's land this year, seedlings should be in next week. We've already cut 400 wire cages 5 ft. tall and rounded up 400 used fence posts.
So I have been following along so I'll chime in. I have been planting state forest nursery oaks with poor results. This is mostly because the last few years have had hot dry weather in the summer. I don't have any way to care, water, etc. They are on their own. The tree seedlings go through transplant shock even under good conditions. If you can get them to live three years, the roots are strong enough they keep coming. So I planted a lot of acorns last year and they grew well. I think they will catch seedlings in a couple years. As far as protection, I cut some narly, thorny hedge and throw over some of the seedlings. I think this has potential. Good topic. Thanks for the input.
I will try to get some pictures and the details of direct seedings that were done at work. I know they are about 15 yrs old and they are 15-20 feet high. I doubt that they did anything to keep the deer out of them, besides overwhelm them with seedlings. I know that they did do some herbicide applications prior to planting. The area was used as a demonstration area for direct seedings. The area was plowed, disked, sprayed, broadcast with seed and then lightly disked again. Looking at the chart for the amount of seed that to use, I would say to cut the walnut way down and increase the other species that you want. If you put to much walnut in the mix you are going to end up with way to many in the planting and out competing the other species.
I've done a little reading on direct seeding walnuts to market for timber. For the money spent, if you get much of anything out of it in 40 years, then it's a great return on investment. However, I just wonder what the odds are that there will be much value to many of the trees that make it that 40 years. I'm curious if anyone else has done this, or even heard about it. I have about 5 acres in an eastern facing hillside/bottom ground that may be suitable for a direct seeding. There are already several walnuts growing there, and the farmer mows around them for hay. It would be simple to kill it, disc it, and seed it. I'm sure the deer would do some browsing, but with 5 acres, I wouldn't think they could get them all.
I did a direct seeding this spring after we were unable to get them seeded in the fall due to late harvest and early freeze. I'm a bit skeptical on how it will turn out so time will tell. The contractor I hired has done lots of direct seedings and he told me not to worry about herbicides unless brome grass took over. We did pin oaks, red oaks, walnut and nannyberry on about 3 acres. So far I've only noticed a few scattered oaks coming up but the district director told me it will take some time to see results. I really hope it works out because I'm about exhausted and broke trying to keep my thousands of seedlings alive. Even after 5 years since my first planting it still seems like a losing battle. Beginning to think it would been cheaper in the long run to buy 8 or 10 foot trees and planted them instead. Lol. Just bought a new farm and contemplating signing up to do another 10 acre direct seeding over there.
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