To Protect A Stream, Part II: Tree Planting

By Doug Pifer

This month the story continues about how we are protecting the stream that adjoins and crosses our pasture and flows into Rockymarsh Run.  In September I described how we protected the stream bank by fencing back our livestock with a thirty-five foot buffer along the stream bank.

When Herb Peddicord, Regional West Virginia Forester, visited our buffer, I learned that the Rockymarsh Watershed has a subsoil containing a substance called marl. A mixture of calcium carbonate and small amounts of clay and organic matter, marl used to occur in extensive wetlands here, along with large deposits of limestone. Farming and development over the past 50 to 70 years have washed clay and other types of topsoil down into the wetlands, filling them in and overlaying the marl deposits. This marl subsoil still supports a variety of plants and animals, some of them rare and unique to this area.

On October 14th I helped the state forestry department drill 75 holes with a two-man auger in order to plant trees in our buffer. As we worked we didn’t see much marl, but noticed some spots had more clay and were harder to drill than others.

On October 16, ten Forestry Department volunteers gathered at our farm. Under Herb’s direction, we distributed trees and shrubs to the spots best suited to their habitat needs.

Starting at the north end of the buffer with neighboring Rocky Marsh Run behind him, Herb started a planting demonstration. Using a pointed shovel, he shaped the augered hole to suit the root system. Loosening and gently pulling the tree’s roots from the pot, he pointed to the root collar, a colorful swelling of the trunk just above where the roots start to grow.

Herb said any roots that twine around the tree trunk need to be trimmed or loosened, lest they damage or even kill the tree as it grows bigger. Potting medium shaken from the roots is mixed with the soil that goes back into the hole. The tree is placed in the hole with the root collar slightly above ground level, which he determined by laying a wooden stake on the ground next to the trunk. The soil and potting mixture is then sifted around the roots and tamped down slightly to remove pockets of air.

After planting all the trees we placed a special plastic sleeve around each tree, gently sliding it over the upper branches and leaves. Vented with air holes so the tree stays cool in summer, the sleeve guards against gnawing rodents and keeps deer from browsing on leaves or rubbing young trunks.

Somebody asked when the sleeve should be removed. Herb said it should stay on, pointing to a line of perforations down the length of the sleeve that will gradually split open as the trunk grows.

Finally, we hammered six-foot wooden stakes about 12 inches into the ground beside each trunk to support and hold the tree upright. Fastened to the sleeve in three places with special plastic zip ties and positioned on the upstream side of the trunk, stakes help to hold the tree in place should the stream overflow its banks.

Thanks to the state forestry department and ten volunteers, our stream bank buffer is now enhanced by 75 trees and shrubs: red oak, swamp white oak, red maple, tulip poplar, American sycamore, river birch, American hazelnut, witch-hazel, spicebush, silky dogwood, basswood, redbud, hackberry, paw-paw and elderberry. Herb also included post oak and sassafras, two native species adapted to dry sites in our buffer.