Tending

The scale may be larger, but just like plants in your garden, young forest trees need Tender Loving Care. Trees as crops cannot be simply planted and left to get on with it any more than can cultivating wheat or lettuces. Mechanical or chemical weed control will be necessary to reduce competition and allow the trees enough space, light and water and nutrients to get established and begin to grow.

Chemical weeding is common practice in young plantings using approved herbicides and a trained workforce. If growth of surrounding vegetation is not controlled, the young saplings may be swamped and die. Spraying weeds on a new planting © Forestry Commission

Some losses after planting are almost inevitable due to being eaten, insect or fungal damage, or drought damage in a very dry year, and these failures need replacing or beating up at an early stage.

Generally speaking fertilisers are not normally used in UK forestry.

In due course, the plots with new trees may need cleaning to remove the unwanted woody vegetation after the normal weeding has ceased. That is often done with clearing saws, a tough version of a strimmer. Handling those is a specialist job and requires both training and adequate protective clothing.

As the crop trees grow, their branches will interlace and the lower ones may need cutting off or brashing to allow access and inspection of the trees. That is a very labour intensive and expensive process which is uncommon nowadays.

Pruning is important, particularly if broadleaved trees are being grown for high quality hardwood timber.

Formative pruning is done at an early stage to ensure the trees are growing upright and with only one straight leader shoot.

Formative pruning of young trees in small broadleaved woodland can be done by the owners and is fun, relatively easy and improves the prospects of eventually getting a quality timber crop.

High pruning involves removing lower side branches as trees get older to produce a clean stem or trunk with relatively few knots - knots form where branches grow out of the main stem. And knot-free hardwood timber is the most valuable.

Branches need cutting just outside of the tree collar using secateurs, pruning saws or a long handled pruning saw.

Pruning ensures a long, straight, knot free trunk - which is where the money is in growing trees for quality timber suitable for the furniture or veneer market.

As the trees grow, and the canopy closes, the forester can select which trees to remove or thin and which to allow to grow on for sawlogs. There are various types of thinning but normally selective thinning is carried out to remove the deformed and low value trees to make space for the better quality ones to grow taller and fatter. Usually the trees cut down are sold for pulpwood with conifers and fuel wood with broadleaves.

Thinning the tree crop requires skill and science. Cutting down too many trees can expose a stand to the wind - a constant problem in the UK - particularly in the uplands on thin wetter soils.

A tree crop may need successive thinnings every few years before it approaches the stage when it can be harvested to provide timber for things like construction or furniture.

More: Other types of thinning are described in our Tree Terms.