From seedlings to trees – the challenges and considerations for all tree planting initiatives

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As a follow up to the previous article on deforestation, I like to now look at how to plant and cater for trees. This is intended for individuals or institutions that wish to plant trees but have little or no expertise. Before I progress, I like to state that even though everyone can plant a tree, it is not every one that can raise a tree. Trees are just like children in my view. Just like how every man may father a child but may not be able to raise that child so is the situation with tree planting. It is one thing planting a tree and a completely different thing raising that tree. To raise a tree is to cater for the tree by protecting it and providing all that it needs to grow.

Most times we hear about tree planting activities by one organization or the other usually on some special days (anniversaries and the like) but we never get to know what happens to those trees after such activities. Tree planting can be done on special days, but tree nursing should be done every day. During the Ghana at 50 celebrations, trees were planted in many places across the country, but how many of these trees have been able to survive? I do not have an exact answer to this question however newspaper reports of 30th May 2007 (published on myjoyonline.com) indicated that some of these trees were dying, using some 1000 trees planted in Ho Municipality as a case in point. As we all know, trees are unable to move from one place to another and so they are more prone to a wide range of problems than animals which can simply move away if the environment is not favourable.
Choosing the right species and transplanting seedlings
Before embarking on tree planting, one must first make some considerations to ensure that the right species is selected for the site of planting (site-species matching). For example, the water requirement of the species should be assessed against the site of planting. Seedlings that require a high amount of water are likely to die in drought prone areas if irrigation is not done and so drought tolerant species should be preferred.
Also, the species must be desirable and provide the kind of benefits that the owner anticipates; e.g. shade, timber, fodder, fuel wood. Such decisions are necessary to avoid problems that may arise later after the tree has already grown. If the institution or individual initiating the planting lacks expertise in tree planting, then it is advisable to consult experts for advice. It is advisable to transplant seedlings at the beginning of the rainy season. The perfect time of day to move the seedling is during morning hours when the humidity is high. Seedlings should be transplanted once they have developed 3 to 4 true leaves.
The hole for planting must be deep enough to accommodate roots without twisting and breaking either the roots or the soil ball. The hole should also be large enough to provide enough aeration and enough loose soil for the young roots to be able to penetrate. The plant should not be put too deep in the soil and should not also be too exposed. As a rule of thumb, it should be ensured that the roots are totally buried in the soil to prevent them from drying out. After transplanting seedlings, they must be provided with enough water to ensure that the roots are well established in the new growing environment.
We must also ensure that the soil is right for the species. Seedlings are delicate and so we may have to use humus soil. In this regard, we may dig out the soil from the hole and refill the hole with humus to a certain height before putting in the seedling.
During dry season, it is also necessary to provide mulch and to water the transplanted seedling. It is extremely important that the newly planted tree has adequate initial moisture. It is however, not advisable to fertilize the seedling during the first year of transplanting.
Protecting trees
After planting seedlings, there is the need to constantly monitor the progress of growth. By observing seedlings regularly, we are able to notice any negative signs early enough to take action. Seedlings are very tender and prone to all sorts of damage threats. They should therefore be fenced to prevent animals from eating shoots or breaking them especially if planting is in cities. Fences should be spacious enough to allow enough aeration and light in for the use of the seedling. Also, fences used must be solid to ensure that they do not easily fall over otherwise the fence will rather destroy the seedling when it falls.
Maintaining trees
In choosing a particular tree species or combination of species for planting, thought should be given to the need for future management. Factors that should be borne in mind include:
water requirements: need for irrigation should be considered right from the beginning and drought-tolerant species should be selected if irrigation is difficult to arrange)
growth rate: need for weeding and other care will be less for fast-growing species
susceptibility to disease: maintenance costs of disease-resistant species/varieties or cultivars are likely to be lower
growth habit: some trees may require pruning to maintain the desired form or foliage; this may also increase maintenance costs
Trees should be pruned regularly to maintain good health and longevity. An effective pruning program helps trees resist wind and help reduce tree hazards. If the planner knows that trees will not receive any pruning once they are in the landscape, then a tree with a naturally good structure (e.g. excurrent growth habit) is preferred.
In conclusion, let us keep in mind that raising trees can be quite an expensive venture. There are many considerations to make and the points discussed in this article are by no means exhaustive. We should at least provide fencing to protect seedlings against damage by animals. We should also consider watering seedlings especially during the dry season.
For those individuals and institutions or organizations who wish to plant trees, you can send an email to cepaghana@yahoo.co.uk for any inquires you might have about tree planting. We are ready and willing to share experiences with you and to go through with you step by step to raise a tree.
Remember when the last tree dies, the last man dies!
Reginald Tang Guuroh, Germany
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