Successful Tree Planting (part 5)

 Trees on horse properties are important

nutrien cycle treeTrees have a big impact on our land, from cycling nutrient to creating habitat for all forms of life, soil creation, shelter, and also creating microclimates [1].  Trees also trap moisture on their leaves and drip that back into the soil. They slow down evaporation, and by planting the right trees around dams, swales and water catchments, we can slow that process by shading the water and keeping it cool. Warm water in shallow dams will evaporate a lot faster than a tree can take up.

 What species are best for tree planting systems?

Trees play a major role in the hydration of the land and the secret lies in the selection.  When we think of reintroducing trees back onto our farms in Australia, many may think of Eucalyptus. However, this may not actually be the best species for modern day restoration. Not only will eucalyptus drain pastures dry, but also they will not let anything grow when its leaves and bark fall to the ground since they are allopathic [2]. Just think of how many Eucalyptus trees you have seen with pasture growing up to the trunk. Now think of a European pasture, those trees all have grass growing to the trunk. Therefore, we need to think about planting a variety of native as well as introduced trees and shrubs. It is also important to consider the arrangement in how you plant these trees and shrubs. One single line of trees will create a monoculture and not encourage diversity.

One of the first questions you have to ask yourself is “What do you want to do with the trees and shrubs?” Fodder, timber for fences, productive food systems for our families food security. It is up to you to work out what function you would like the tree system to serve and then you can compile your list of trees. The selection will also depend on your climate, geographical location, soil conditions, rainfall, declared status in your state (or country) etc.

Let us look at how we can stack functions of a tree planting system: For example, tree 1: Bamboo, will give us shelter, stabilise soil, horse fodder 365 days a year, and timber for fencing. Tree 2: Grevillea robusta (Silky Oak), native to southeast Queensland, will give us shelter, timber for construction, bee forage, and important habitat for wildlife and diversity. So, by just looking at two different types of trees, we have created many functions. In a dynamic tree system, you should aim for as many different types of trees, both native and exotic.

How can I speed up growth of tree systems?

There are a number of native and introduced species of trees and shrubs that are fast-growing and nitrogen-fixing. One example is the Acacia (or commonly known as Australian wattle). Planting 12 to 18 months before planting your functional trees will fix nitrogen into the ground, de-compact the soil and add fertility by cutting and allowing tree branches to drop to the ground to form mulch and fodder.

What we are aiming for is a natural system. Like Nature does on its own, the pioneer trees grow first, then provide shelter and produce a micro-climate for the tall canopy trees to grow tall and reach for the sky. This prevents the trees to be wind-blasted and to develop deformed stumps that never go anywhere. This style of pioneer planting will also shade out competition from grasses thus leaving the trees to power on.

What natural methods are available to give my trees the best start?

Mycorrhiza are fungi that live in a beneficial relationship with most tree roots [3,4,5]. Mycorrhiza increase the tree roots access to water and nutrients and therefore increase tree growth, especially in poor soil conditions which are often found in tree planting areas and on most horse properties. Just as we apply starter fertiliser when young saplings are planted, we also need to consider inoculation with mycorrhiza to enhance survival rates of planted trees and shrubs. Most soils in Australia are devoid of mycorrhiza due to tillage, chemicals, compaction and loss of organic matter, which make saplings very susceptible to drought and cause shortages in nutrients. If we can inoculate the saplings with mycorrhiza, we can limit these stresses and survival rates will increase.

Figure 1. This can be done with more than three species. The same species should be planted so diversity can be kept and different species will have different growth rates.

How can I get started?

The most important thing with tree planting is to make a plan of how many trees and shrubs you would like to plant. It is better to plant a small number of trees/shrubs and invests the time in correct planting than to have a large number of trees and rush the job. This will save you money in the long run, especially if things go wrong (such as environmental disasters, trampling, predation etc). At the same time you can review your planting techniques and the establishment of the plants.

To ensure exceptionally high survival rates of tree seedlings, preparation is the key for which the following eight steps should be followed:

Step 1. Identify compaction layers and deep-rip appropriately using a Yeomans Plow to open up the soil on contour and leave to sit for 3-6 months before planting.

Step 2. Mark out tree spacings according to tree type and habitat goal. If you plant trees in a triangle fashion, (see figure 1) it will give you the best outcome and increase the strength of your planting by creating gaps through pattern to slow wind.

Step 3. Remove all grass using a slasher to mulch

the grass. Within 1m of the planting holes remove the grass and use paper and cardboard to suppress any competition and use either straw mulch or heavy mulch.

Step 4. Dig holes deeper than the pot making sure the hole edges are not smooth and at least 300mm round to allow for root expansion.

Step 5.  As preferred you can add a biological tree-starter tonic into the planting hole.

Step 6. Dip tree seedling roots (preferably tube stock) into the tree tonic solution. Then plant them so that they just cover the root ball, leaving a depression to hold water.

Leave a depression around the tree, so it can hold 10L of water. Water the seedlings with the tree tonic to limit stress and to feed soil biology.

Step 7. Put down a mulch weed matand set up a tree guard. Place dry forest mulch (preferably hay) around the outside of the tree guard.

Step 8. After 12 months fertilise each tree with biological tree booster (such as compost tea)around the drip line to promote growth.

Which tree-guards should I use?

A tree guard should be able to protect the young plants against, wind, predation and other adverse effects such as sand blasting and frost. The tree guard together with a weed mat can reduce the competition with grasses. There are a number of tree guards on the market and many people make their own from mesh wires. However, research has shown that the colour of the guard could be an additional benefit for the plant. The reason for using Pink tree guards is that visible light can be split into a spectrum of colours [6]. Sunlight contains the full spectrum, or wavelengths, of light that plants need to complete photosynthesis [7]. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants transform light energy into food and oxygen. A prism will break the spectrum of colour from the sun into bands of red, blue, indigo, violet, green, orange and yellow. Even though plants use all colours of the light spectrum, red and blue are the two primary colours necessary to complete the energy conversion. The amount of red and blue light within a light source will affect plant growth in different ways [7]. Green is reflected rather than absorbed by plants, which is why they appear green.


  1. Perlis, A. 2007. Forests and water. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Unasylva No. 229 Vol. 58.
  2. FAO. 1988. The Eucalyptus dilemma. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome.
  3. Ingham, E. The Soil & Foliar Foodwebs. Soil Food International (
  4. Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS). 2000. Soil Biology Primer. Rev. ed. Ankeny; Iowa; Soil and Water Conservation Society.
  5. Stamets. P. 2005. Mycelium running: how mushrooms can help save the world. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California USA.
  6. Kilby, M. 2013. The Plant Pink System™. Global land Repair (, Canberra.
  7. Eaton, J.J., Tripathy, B.C. and Sharkey, T.D. 2012. Photosynthesis: Plastid Biology, Energy Conversion and Carbon Assimilation. Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration Vol 34. Springer, Netherlands.

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