*This article is focused on pine species, as that is the predominately focused replanted tree species in the Southeast. Hardwoods are often (not always) reforested naturally or through seed tree and uneven management*
--Assuming you have your objectives established --
The most common pine species replanted are:
Loblolly - Longleaf - Slash
(Shortleaf pine is replanted in some areas and some circumstances, but not a common plantation pine species so will not be focused on in this article.)
It can seem a little overwhelming when trying to make a decision of "what to plant". You want to be sure you're making the right decision, since this is a 20+ year commitment you are putting into the ground!
So we will look into 4 things to consider when preparing to replant your property.
1. What type of land do you own AND what pine is compatible?
Not all sites and soils are right for all pines... so take careful consideration of what your land's soil is like and what pine species would thrive best on that type of ground! If you don't know what type of soils you have you can reach out to your local forester or NRCS agent to help you identify your soils (generally) or use the NRCS Web Soil Survey online! So what soils are (on average) best for which pines?
- Loblolly: clay-like soils or wetter-type soils.
- Longleaf: sandier-loam like soils, well-drained/very dry uplands
- Slash: what I consider a "transition" pine for sites between loblolly and longleaf pine type soils. It can do well on dry uplands to wetter soils.
2. What markets are near you?
Your markets will help guide you in your rotation ages that you might strive for, as well as opportunities to look into! If you have strong pulpwood markets? Strong sawtimber markets and/or poles? Any specialty product markets, such as turpentine? Most species, when planted appropriately can provide a wide-range of products, but rather the strength of markets can sway you towards one or another.
-Loblolly: the fastest growing pine species, and often the cheapest seedling for decent genetic options, it is the ideal species for pulp markets, but suitable for sawtimber and poles (when managed well). Loblolly is known as "king" in the Southeast because it is the most commonly replanted, especially by industry and in the Piedmont regions, because of its fast growth to reach a variety of product sizes. There are no pine straw revenue options though.
-Longleaf: highly desired for strong pine straw, it can be a a good pulpwood market tree IF pinestraw is included in the management. It is often favored for poles due to it's longer growth (aka tighter ring structure) and naturally straight form (when managed well).
-Slash: again this acts as a transitional species between loblolly and longleaf. It has faster growth than longleaf while still providing some pine straw revenue opportunities. It does have a niche market opportunity for turpentine, if those markets are available.
3. How active do you want to be in land management?
This question can also be phrased as "how hands on and often do you want to be involved in management operations?" If you live long distance or fairly time-consumed with career and family already, the answer is probably more along the lines of being a passive landowner with minimum obligations. If you live within the county, have the time and enjoy being out there doing management practices yearly, multiple times a year, then you can agree you want and CAN be an active landowner.
-Loblolly and Slash: once site prep and planting is completed, there is typically minimum requirements to get these seedlings to thrive. I usually refer to them as a plant and leave to grow type tree. They're great options for the more passive landowner, or one that simply cannot commit to many management practices in their present circumstance (health, distance, family, career, etc). Don't get me wrong IF you want to be more engaged, there are definitely plenty of enhancements that can be done, especially to benefit wildlife... but all-in-all, this is a great "plant and leave" type tree with minimum maintenance required until it's time to thin.
-Longleaf: this is more recommended for the active landowner primarily because of the prescribe burning it needs to really thrive to its potential. On average, you're looking to make sure you complete a prescribed burn every 2 to 3 years. This may not at first glance seem like a "big deal" to you, but depending on your acreage... and if you are trying to diversify your tract and burning different "quadrants", you could be looking at a burn YOU are trying to implement every year, just for different sections of your property... and that is when things can get overwhelming and easily behind schedule due to: your personal schedule, weather and natural disasters, and resource availability (especially if you do not feel comfortable and confident to burn the stand yourself... which is not recommended unless you've had some educational training in how to properly execute a burn). Will the longleaf pines be okay without burning... sure, probably... but as a fire-dependent tree species, it won't reach it's potential without it.
4. What is your budget for reforestation?
I'd never recommend agreeing to any and all recommendations for your property (no matter how great or fast it will be to get you to your goals) without first determining the financial side of it. What is your budget (total) and per acre? Do you have any financial assistance programs assisting you with the reforestation? The returns and long-term plan may seem enticing, but not if you end up bankrupt in the process.
-Loblolly and Slash: site prep requirements are typically the same and will vary depending on your "starting point" that you prepare the land. They don't require a super clean site either, which can help you with your upfront costs. Seedling prices are also about the same (similar), but loblolly seedlings will generally have better genetic options simply due to their long and extensive research over the last 50+ years. Financial assistance and cost share programs are more limited usually for these species, however they are out there and available if you ask.
-Longleaf: site prep should be done appropriately and as "clean" as possible to provide the best planting opportunity as possible. Longleaf, although a hardly tree once established, can be a finicky seedling that is easily overshadowed by competing vegetation, chocked out by grasses and root systems, and unintentionally "buried" due to the bud being at the bottom (towards the roots/plug) rather than the top of the tree (stereotypically seen with loblolly, slash and other pine seedlings). Therefore you want to be sure your planters have easy ground to plant in (not a lot of debris to walk through that would increase air pockets during planting and increase chances to be overshadowed by other vegetation). Longleaf seedlings are typically more expensive as well. Depending on who you ask, you may get a different answer, but I always recommend to plant plugs over bareroot longleaf seedlings. In my opinion, you're already spending more money... you might as well be sure to increase your odds for a successful planting (plugs are more likely to have a higher survival rate over bareroot). Additionally, to stimulate your longleaf seedlings to grow you are looking to do a prescribed burn ~2 years after planting. Although longleaf is generally your more expensive pine to plant/reforest with... there are typically more financial assistance programs available to help with reforestation costs to get it established.
So next time you are preparing for your replanting and reforestation efforts, be sure to go through those four questions to help you decide what you should plant back. This will greatly help you when planning out your reforestation goals and practices, applying for cost share programs, and discussions with your resources and professional forester.
*Objectives were not emphasized, because honestly any of the three species can meet most objectives when planted on the right site and managed appropriately. *
If you'd like to learn more about reforestation techniques and how to prepare for your next planting efforts, be sure to look at the February 18th, 2021 The Woman Landowner Workshop in Albany, Georgia! Registration is now open, with limited space available, be sure to register for your spot asap.
See EVENT INFO HERE.