FAQ: Planting and Watering

FAQ: Planting and Watering

  • Planting new trees and shrubs is the most important task in shelterbelt establishment.
  • ​A detailed description of all necessary planting steps is available from the AAFC – Agricultural Practices –  Agroforestry – Growth and Maintenance of Trees website by clicking here.
  • Water immediately after planting (3-5 gallons each) to increase seedling survival and growth rate.
  • As any long-term investment, shelterbelts require a careful consideration of your available land resources (such as distance from buildings, dugouts, roads), as well as a designated purpose (such as farmyard protection, field crop protection, field snow distribution, livestock protection, etc.)
  • Shelterbelt designs vary depending on the shelterbelt purpose.
  • Several shelterbelt designs, organized by shelterbelt purpose, are described in detail at the AAFC – Agricultural Practices – Agroforestry – Shelterbelt Planning and Establishment – Design website by clicking on the links below:
  1. Farmyard Shelterbelts
  2. Field Shelterbelts
  3. Dugout Shelterbelts
  4. Roadside Shelterbelts
  5. Livestock Shelterbelts
  6. Wildlife Plantings
  7. Riparian Buffers
  8. Forest belts
  • ​Site preparation, proper planting technique and maintenance/weed control is essential for successful shelterbelt establishment. 
  • Not following recommended practices will decrease the health and survival of your shelterbelt. 
  • Research has shown that following recommended planting and establishment techniques results in a 70 percent increase in tree growth. 
  • It is suggested that seedlings are well maintained, watered and weeded until they are at least 5 years old. 
  • The best survival, quick growth and maximum longevity of your trees will be experienced if good maintenance practices are performed throughout the lifetime of your shelterbelt.
  • Monitor weeds, soil moisture and general plant health. 
  • Provide weed maintenance, supplemental irrigation and plant care as needed over the growing season:
  1. Weed control is essential for the first 3-5 years after planting to reduce competition for moisture, nutrients and light. Application of a recommended herbicide prior to, and after, planting or the application of recommended mulch after planting will reduce weed growth.
  2. Shallow and careful cultivation is required to prevent injury to tree roots. Stay at least 30 cm (1 foot) away from outside tips of the branches. Do not cultivate any deeper than 8 cm (3 inches). Root damage will lead to slower tree growth and possibly death.
  3. Trees must be fenced off from livestock to prevent trampling of seedlings, compaction of the soil and breaking/ rubbing of limbs. Fencing should be permanent – over the lifetime of the trees.
  4. Pruning shelterbelts is required only to remove dead limbs (double leaders in conifers) or broken and diseased branches.
  5. Early detection and control of insect pests and diseases are essential for healthy growth. Contact your local specialist for diagnostic services and recommendations.
  6. Plant replacement trees as soon as possible to avoid gaps in the shelterbelt.
  7. Fertilizing of young seedlings is not recommended for at least one growing season and under normal growing conditions is not necessary.
  • ​It is very difficult to provide a general statement regarding watering trees. 
  • The 1 inch per week, often recommended, may originate from total water use for some species i.e. choke cherry uses up to 15 inches of water during the growing season depending on temperature, humidity and wind. 
  • Most of the species used in shelterbelts can survive and grow well with no irrigation if competing vegetation is controlled. 
  • The exception are conifers, which benefit from watering when they are young but supplemental watering may be necessary during periods of extended drought for all species. 
  • Most recommended shelterbelt species are adapted to short periods of drought, however watering immediately after planting and during the establishment period (3-5 years after planting) is always beneficial.
  • ​Trees benefit from a good watering just before freeze-up in the fall. This will ensure that the tree goes into winter without a moisture deficit. 
  • Fall watering is especially important for conifers, which can be susceptible to winter browning and in years where prolonged drought has been experienced. 
  • The best recommendation is to keep the tree healthy throughout the growing season with proper site maintenance and pest control. This will ensure that the tree will go into winter healthy and able to withstand stress.
  • The best method is to collect poplar/willow cuttings from preferred standing trees in late winter or early spring while they are still dormant.
  • Cuttings must be collected from the tree before they break bud (leaf out). While the tree is dormant, collect the newest growth (last season’s growth) from the ends of the branches or leader of the tree.
  • Make the cuttings about 15 to 20 cm long, wrap them in a wet paper towel, place them in a sealed plastic bag and store them in the crisper of the fridge (+5°C).
  • When the ground has completely thawed out and warmed up sufficiently for the cuttings to root (12-15°C), take the cuttings from the fridge and soak them for 1 day. DO NOT STORE CUTTINGS IN WATER ANY LONGER THAN 1 DAY.
  • Plant the cuttings, buds facing up, into deep, well-worked topsoil. The top of the cutting should be flush with the soil surface and the soil around the cutting should be packed well so that there are no air pockets.
  • Water the cuttings well initially and then water when the soil dries out. Do not keep the soil completely saturated or the roots will not form (they will rot).
  • If cuttings are planted in a garden plot, they should be moved to a permanent location after one growing season. If left too long, due to their fast growth, poplar/willow will become too large to move.
  • To decrease the chances of transplanting shock, move only when the seedlings are dormant. Another method would be to plant them in individual pots and transplant the rooted cuttings to their permanent location in the fall of the same year.

Transplanting of bare root trees:

  • Transplanting of bare root trees (little or no soil around the roots) should always be done when the trees are dormant (leaves are gone). The best time is usually late September (up until the ground freezes) or in the spring after the ground thaws but before the tree breaks bud (starts to leaf out).
  • Conifers usually go dormant about a week before deciduous trees have lost their leaves in the fall.
  • Both conifers and deciduous trees stay dormant until the time they break bud in the spring.
  • When digging by hand, remember to dig deep enough and wide enough to get as many roots as possible. Make sure the roots are not exposed to air, sunlight or heat for any length of time. Keep stress to a minimum by moving the tree as quickly and carefully as possible.
  • Plant the tree in its new location at the same depth or slightly deeper (1-2″) than where it was moved from. If necessary, back-fill with compost or good top soil. No roots should be exposed.
  • Pack the soil firmly and water thoroughly. Water when necessary (when the soil dries out), but do not keep the soil saturated or the roots will not develop in the water-logged soil.

Use a tree spade to move larger trees (over 5’ tall):

  • Use as large a tree spade as possible.
  • For best results move the trees when they are dormant. Since the roots are not exposed when using a tree spade, the window for transplanting is much larger.
  • The tree spade must be large enough to ensure that enough roots are collected to support the upper portion of the tree. Try to keep root damage and loss to a minimum to help the tree better able to survive and grow.
  • Generally, the maximum size of tree to move with a tree spade is about 4 to 5 metres.
  • Usually smaller trees have a better survival rate. The larger the tree, the less chance of getting enough roots to keep the tree healthy.
  • Be sure that once the large soil plug (with the tree) is in the hole that the gap between the plug and the hole is filled in with topsoil and packed so there is no air space.
  • Any tree over 2 metres should then be staked with guy wires on three sides and kept moderately tight to prevent movement while the tree forms new anchor roots (minimum of 2 years).
  • Make sure that the rope is covered with an old garden hose or another non-abrasive membrane so that there is less chance of the bark being damaged.
  • Watering should be done immediately following transplanting. Water very well when necessary but let the soil dry out slightly between waterings to facilitate good root growth.
  • Most trees will be slow to grow after transplanting due to transplant shock from root loss. Larger trees will be more affected than smaller trees.

An excellent resource on tree and shrub planting in Saskatchewan is the video created by Forest First (formerly known as the Saskatchewan Forestry Centre), which is provided for viewing below: