Planting a woodland – bullet points

This is for anybody who has some land and is planning to plants a woodland. If you’re still at the stage of finding  the land then my suggestions are here.

These are some of the things I wished I’d known before I started, readers are welcome to contact me if anything need explanation.

  • Tools we under-achieved for our first couple of planting days because we didn’t have the right quantity / quality / type of tools. Most spades will break easily if you abuse them by levering back and forth to open a planting notch. Long and narrow blade works well for notch planting, my personal favourite in the end was an all-steel Newcastle Drainer (I got them from Toolstation, see also cheaper B&Q  equivalent). Tools especially mallets are easily lost in a large field, especially if the grass is long.
  • Rootgrow your only chance to boost mycorrhizal fungi is when you’re planting the trees – it’s hard to retrofit afterwards. I used Rootgrow  (5Kg tubs from ebay) throughout. It’s hard to know how effective it has been but I’m very happy with the survival rates of my trees.
  • Layout figure out in advance what trees are going where. I laid out paths, clearings, etc first. We then planted in stands around 20m x  20m, with several species in each stand. Pick species which are compatible (eg. they grow at similar rates to similar sizes) and will grow well in the location (moisture, light, exposure, etc).
  • Positioning don’t rely on your planting team to put the right trees in the right places (or even to space the trees out as you want them). I scavenged loads of pots of paint and then painted the tops of stakes different colours for different species (need dry stakes, paint doesn’t stick to wet wood). Then I set the stakes out before each planting day.
  • Health and safety: have a first aid kit with you and don’t assume that everybody will know intuitively how to knock in a stake with a mallet safely.
  • Whips Have plenty of plastic sacks so you can distribute the whips (small trees) to your planting teams in bags – roots will dry out very quickly on a cold breezy winter day. If you give a large team of people one bag of trees, they take a few each and they can easily dry out or get lost in the grass.
  • Volunteers I persuaded over 100 people to get involved in planting in the first year, many of them came back several times and in subsequent years. Between us we planted many thousands of trees:
    • I started by emailing everybody I knew.
    • I wrote a blog and sent them all the link, so they could see what it was all about and what to expect (a few of them actually read it!)
    • I took photos of happy people planting trees on sunny days and then tagged them on my Facebook page (I used my personal page rather than setting up a group or page for the project, it depends how public you want to make it). Friends and friends-of-friends found out and joined in.
    • It was a lot of fun and I made some great new friends.
    • If you’re planting a wood near Bristol then let me know, I’ll volunteer to plant trees for you.
  • Catering Good to provide hot drinks, biscuits and ideally a hot lunch for tree-planting volunteers. If you’re using a camp-fire or a small camping stove then tea breaks and lunchtime will take up half your day. I built a rocket stove and had one person solely responsible all day for feeding and general welfare. Sausage and egg butties went down well but for feeding a large group my friend Bec showed me how to produce huge vegetable/bean stews with dumplings.
  • Shelter Don’t forget shelter for your volunteers (in my case a huge frame tent that somebody had abandoned after Glastonbury – the frame stayed there permanently, it only took a minute to throw the canvas over it and the first sign of rain). Also seating, thanks again Glastonbury for lots of abandoned camp chairs. Spare woolly hats went down well too. Toilet is essential. Volunteer parking was a bit of a nightmare, people want to arrive and leave when it suits them (fair enough) and don’t want to park somewhere if they might get blocked in.
  • Grass long matted grass is makes planting slower, ideally I’d get it mown in late summer prior to winter planting. Local farmers will pay you for this (they need to make silage).
  • Time It all takes a lot longer than you think. The BTCV Woodlands Handbook says (I think) that a volunteer can plant 100 trees in a day. That probably assumes the volunteer knows what they’re doing, has all the materials and tools to hand and works hard for a full 8 hour day. I my experience most of these things aren’t true most of the time. I can (now) plant 100+ trees with stakes and tree shelters in a day, or 150+ if I’m using spiral guards and canes, but it’s a long hard full-on day. A bit more than that if the materials are ready and in place in advance. If you push volunteers too hard it then becomes a race and quality of planting suffers. Better to plant well than plant many, if the trees aren’t planted to the right depth and well heeled in you will have far more losses.
  • Trees that we planted  came from:
    • The Woodland Trust‘s MoreTrees scheme (subsidised, with tree guards and stakes)
    • OVO Energy‘s idigtrees scheme (free, with spiral guards and stakes)
    •  home-grown: I set up a tree nursery in the corner of the field, protected from deer and rabbits using heras fencing and chicken wire. I planted seeds, some stuff grew well but it was a lot of effort to grow and transplant them; certain trees and shrubs can be reproduced from cuttings: willow, poplar, elder, holly, juniper, yew, dog rose, most fruit bushes; I also grafted a lot of fruit and nut trees with a reasonably good rate of success.
  • [to be continued? ask me a question]