How to plant a tree respectfully in 9 steps ?
Updated: May 17, 2021
This article is based on our experience. Indeed, in 2020, we spent more 7 months in South Africa in the non-profit association of Pachamama. This is a forest restoration project, and we have helped plant over 2,000 native trees!
If you are wondering what project restoration is, we invite you to read the post:
What is forest restoration?
First, it is important to note that the following does not apply in all situations. The Pachamama project aims to reforest an area degraded by forestry. This means that the soil, although damaged by former intensive forestry activities and therefore emptied of its water and minerals, was biologically suitable for receiving trees. Indeed, this soil was composed of many mushrooms.
If the land to be reforested had been an old pasture, the soil would have been biologically unsuitable because it presented mainly bacteria (and not fungi necessary for the good growth of trees), the first stages are then different, and we will explain them in a future one blog post!
"Planting a tree does not seem so complicated, you just have to put a seed in the ground, water and wait, right?
Well not really ...."
Now let's explore the 9 steps in details:
1. Remove alien invasive species
We were also very surprised and a little shocked. After all, we had come as volunteers in a reforestation project and here we were in the middle of chainsaws and falling trees .... In the end, a tree is a tree, so why cut down grown ones to plant seedlings?
Nevertheless, the team in charge of the project explained at length the reasons for these actions .... The pines and Eucalyptus present in large numbers on the site, even if they seem old and magnificent, are in reality posing a serious problem to the ecosystem in place.
In fact, they are invasive, non-native trees which therefore have no "predators". That is to say that no local animal or insect can feed on it, and therefore it is growing everywhere, at full speed and out of all control, thus threatening:
- other plants;
- water reserves (An adult eucalyptus still drinks more than 600 liters of water per day);
- soil fertility (pines lose needles and eucalyptus have a trunk that peels or moults regularly and these two trees therefore cover the undergrowth of their toxic "waste" preventing suffocating everything else);
- Increasing risk of wildfires (eucalyptus and pine trees due to their composition can burn very fast).
2. Clear and reuse unwanted organic matters
In order to ease movement in the felling area and to prepare for the next steps, it is important to clear this area.
To do this, you have to manually stack small branches and chop the larger ones and then stack them with the smaller ones. Logs should also be cut into pieces 3-5 m long and be reused on site to build/repair infrastructures.
The ideal is once again to work without heavy machinery (no tractor) but with the man force (and force of the woman of course) in order not to compact the ground unnecessarily.
3. Grind the branches to obtain organic matter (known as mulch)
Organic matter will be used to cover the soil to allow it to absorb rainwater more efficiently and protect it from soil erosion. It will also act as a compost during its decomposition.
It is indeed crucial to help the soils to regenerate themselves, especially if for a long time they have been used for the logging of harmful species such as pines or eucalyptus (whose leaves and needles are toxic and "burn" all vegetation, at their feet, leaving the ground bare and dry).
4. Extract logs
These logs were cut, as described in step 2, in sections of 3 to 5 meters in length in order to be more manageable and to allow us to bring them to the nearest sawmill.
Obviously for this step, the help of a small tractor is necessary. However, this step remains the most physical, since it is necessary to roll the logs, then hoist them using levers on a trailer.
5. Contouring: Measure and mark the land according to the slope
It is important to limit/ redirect water flow during heavy rains. Thus, for each meter of vertical drop, small trunks or large branches of felled trees will be placed, in order to serve as a barrier.
Thus trees replanted on the top of the slope benefit from sufficient irrigation and those installed at the bottom of the slope do not end up drowned.
6. Dig holes
In order not to compact the soil, once again we use human strength with the help of a (hand) auger. The soil being clayey, doing it with a shovel was really impossible.
In the case of the Pachamama project, planting trees less than one year old require holes about 70 cm deep.
7. Prepare holes before planting
A small amount of enriched soil is poured into each hole which allows for the necessary life to be inoculated (fungi, bacteria, and earthworms, for example). For the proper development of the tree and a successful survival rate, this step is so important.
It is also necessary, with a shovel, to trace faults in the edges of the hole, especially if the soil is too compact, so that the future roots can spread more easily and thus ensure the good development of the plant.
8. Plant a tree and protect it with mulch
Finally, we can plant a tree! After all we had come to South Africa to reforest ...
With delicacy, you have to take the tree out of its pot, plant it by mixing the potting soil with the earth resulting from the exaction of the hole. It is also necessary to take care to wrap the roots well with earth, because the slightest air bubble will cause them to rot.
Finally, it is a matter of covering the circumference of the tree and the mound with organic matter (resulting from the crushing of invasive and foreign species previously cut down).
9. Water and monitor
It's almost finished, just go fill a watering can and irrigate the plant.
In addition to this, you need to know more about it.
During the months following planting, the trees will be monitored and watered if necessary to ensure their adaptation to planting. The planter team is very careful and they will regularly receive help in the form of a tutor or a new layer of organic matter.
Now you know everything!
If you also want to get involved to re-enchant the plant, you can support this by choosing an artwork that plants trees, respectfully!