OVER THE FENCE

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Arbor Day used to be on or about August 5, which was a day set aside for formal public tree planting. However, since the day of the root control container, Arbor Day can now be any day of the year and is no longer marked on the calendar. When we took on our farm, it was about as treeless as the prairie and we needed shelter, so our venture into finding varieties that would do the job has been one of trial and error.
To give shelter around the house, we read the current shelter tree books and took the advice from nurserymen, and consequently planted a low, dense wind breaker Chamaecyparis lawsoniana, with Lombardy poplars behind, which were to break up the wind and give shelter further out.
The poplars failed so we tried again: same result. Consultants and advisers may have their place but local knowledge would have saved us a lot of time had we known what a respected farmer told us after our failures: that Lombardy poplars can’t be successfully grown on Kaiwera soil types but the hybrids can.
Trying to create a microclimate and to keep out the east wind from the back door, we experimented with matsudana willow. A waste of time again and finished up with Eucalyptus johnsonii which were planted about 30 years ago and have retained their foliage to the ground.
Thuja plicata, or western red cedar, makes up the bulk of our shelterbelts around the farm. It requires very little maintenance and is not subject to canker, like the lawson cypress. Because of the cattle abortion issue with macrocarpa hedges, they have been fazed out of our planting programme.
There are lots of other deciduous trees we have tried growing in little clusters to give colour in the autumn but they’ve struggled out on their own.
In developing the farm, gorse in the gullies was a problem and it didn’t matter how much it was sprayed, it just kept reappearing. So, back in the ’80s, a tree-planting programme commenced. Like the shelter trees, it has been one of trial and error.
Pinus radiata was planted extensively but it is snowtender in its juvenile state and we found if trees were smashed around with a heavy snowfall, when they came away again they would put up two leaders. They required pruning and thinning.
Macrocarpa is tough, eco friendly, won’t require tanalising and not much pruning but because of the risk of cow abortion we ceased planting.
Eucalyptus nitens has been planted in one small woodlot but it seems its value will be only in firewood.
Douglas fir or Oregon are in favour at the moment, as their growth seems comparable with some of the other varieties. They don’t require too much in the way of maintenance or need for tanalising when harvested.
Over the years, more than 100,000 stems have been planted on about 40 hectares on marginal back faces.
So far, they have provided riparian protection, shelter and shade, are an asset in succession planning and may have value again in carbon credits. Recently, we have had surprisingly tempting offers on our largest plantation.