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Once the trees arrive on-site to your planting camp, in a large truck or reefer, tree planters are the primary link in handling the seedlings until they're finally planted in the spots where they'll spend the rest of their growing lives. This is the part of the seedlings' journey where stress can be most easily introduced, so it's important for us to treat the young trees with care.
How you handle seedlings will directly affect their survival. From the time a seedling leaves the nursery, it's at risk. There are obvious ways to mishandle trees, but you shouldn't underestimate the effect that a series of small stresses can have on seedlings. Each stress is cumulative. Once weakened, a seedling has less resistance to future stresses that it will encounter once planted.
On Site Seedling Storage
Once the trees are at the site, they'll need to be taken care of in a manner that maintains their optimum temperature and moisture.
Here are some basic rules for onsite seedling storage:
- Protect them from direct sunlight and temperature extremes.
- Thaw any frozen seedlings slowly and naturally, within closed boxes or under tarps. The roots and plugs of seedling bundles should never be exposed to direct sunlight and air flow.
- If the plugs of the seedlings aren't very moist, give them a bit of water occasionally. Don't soak them.
- Keep seedlings out of standing water or mud so their roots can breathe.
- Keep seedlings covered whenever possible, by natural shade, or by a reflective covering.
- Whenever possible, your main seedling cache should be a refrigerated trailer unit, referred to as a reefer. The temperature in the reefer should be maintained between one and four degrees Celsius. This is the optimum temperature to store the trees, until they're removed from this main cache and moved into trucks for their trip to the blocks.
Handling Seedling Boxes
Seedlings are sensitive to being crushed, and the trees undergo stress if the boxes are dropped. During transportation in trucks or on ATV's, rough access adds stress to the seedlings.
Here are some basic rules for handling seedling boxes:
- Handle boxes carefully, without dropping or throwing them. When unloading a reefer, slide them up the floor, and don't let the boxes crash out the end onto the ground.
- Keep the boxes upright, as seedlings can also be crushed when the boxes are crushed.
- If you need to stack boxes more than two boxes high, use a pattern of alternating orientation that strengthens the structural integrity of the pile.
- Keep the boxes closed when you're not bagging up.
- Don't sit on, stand on, or stack heavy objects on the boxes, if it causes the boxes to be crushed.
- Try not to ever let tree boxes get wet. The cardboard is treated with wax, but the boxes still degrade when wet, and they'll crush more easily. Storing trees in a reefer is always better than using a bush cache.
Correct Handling of Seedlings and Bundles
The highest risks to seedlings are when you handle them in bundles while bagging up, and as individual seedlings while you're planting them.
Your trainer or foreman will show you the proper way to load seedlings into your planting bags, also knowing as "bagging up." Depending where you're working, you may be asked to use reflective inserts known as "silvicools" in your planting bags, to keep seedlings cool. With the exception of your drawbag, which is the insert or inserts that you're actively drawing trees from, any other reserve inserts should be kept closed if it's a hot or sunny day. Don't come back to the cache to take a break while you still have trees in your bags. Make sure you bag out first, so seedlings aren't sitting in your bags for an unnecessary amount of time.
When you're planting, moving a seedling from your bags to the hole can damage it in numerous ways. The laterals, needles, or the top bud (known as the leader) can be damaged. The roots can be shaken or bent with rough handling. Be gentle with the seedling as you're moving the tree out of your bags. Don't unwrap too many at once, because on a hot day, the plugs will dry out faster. At the end of the day, if you're stuck with some trees remaining in your bags, rewrap any loose trees, close the drawstrings on the inserts, and store the bags in a cool, safe place. Your trainer or foreman will demonstrate the best way to handle the seedlings while you plant.
A bit of jostling around is inevitable for the seedlings. However, we want to avoid unnecessary violence. By treating them with some respect, you can have a significant effect on improving their survival rate. Just like people, young trees are more susceptible to being hurt than mature trees. Treat a box of trees just like it's a box of babies. You don't want to being throwing boxes of babies around.
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