Picture this: You are the 23-year-old owner of 40 acres of chemical-free, stunningly beautiful though-somewhat neglected land. You decide to restore your land to its historic roots as a Midwest Savanna.
In late summer, you get together with another young farmer who knows how to do these things, and spend lots of time walking through your land, identifying your marvelous variety of healthy pasture grasses and existing trees, and studying contour maps while guzzling plenty of ice water and munching on non-GMO popcorn.
You study your land carefully whenever it rains, so you know where water is naturally running off, and forming gullies down the hill and into the woods. You spot places where you could dig a trough called a “swale” to divert some of that water to other places (like your future savanna), effectively channeling water distribution up to the dry ridgetop.
Throughout the winter, you dream about your savanna. In early spring, you order trees … lots and lots of trees. It is so much fun! Your swale-digging farmer friend shows up with his swale-digging tractor attachment, and the swales are dug.
Soon, the wait is over … boxes and boxes of tree saplings arrive! Trees … trees … trees … LOTS and LOTS of trees! How many trees? Don’t you remember? You ordered 500 trees. 500 trees. 500 TREES. Good grief, what were you thinking? You’re up here on this farm by yourself, and you have 500 trees to plant!
You drop hints to the few people you know up there in your new Wisconsin homeland. Help! Your mom drops hints to the few people she knows up there. Help! Neither of you gets any response. Oh well. Suck it up, grab a tamping rod, a shovel, a pair of leather gloves, don your muck boots, and head up the ridge top with your boxes.
Double-check your planting plan … make sure you know exactly where you need to put which tree … there are six different kinds of trees and shrubs to keep straight.
Shade tree rows have eight trees, planted fairly far apart. Intensive rows have understory shrubs every 4 feet or so, interspersed amongst the shade trees. So you identify the correct saplings, grab eight or 16 of them, then start walking the row and dropping the saplings where you want to plant them.
Once they’re all dropped, grab your shovel and your tamping rod, and head to the beginning of the row. Use the heavy tamping rod to slice into the earth, and push the dirt to the side. You are making a slit just wide enough to accommodate the roots of the sapling. If the roots are bent (they often are), cut the slit to accommodate this, too. Carefully guide the roots into the opening … take care to prevent them from twisting. Now take the tamping rod, slice into the earth alongside the roots without cutting them, and pull the handle toward the roots to squeeze the dirt back around them, pressing out air and closing the space.
Next, grab your shovel. All along the swales that were dug lies the dirt and grass that was uprooted in the process. Slice into it and make yourself two 6-inch clods, grass attached. Watch what you’re cutting, lest you harm a toad!
Place the two dirt clods, grass side down, around the sapling. Stomp them down firmly into the ground. This provides a structural support for the newly planted tree. As the “buried” grass breaks down, it will feed the little tree.
Congratulations! You’ve planted your first tree! Now that you know what to do, the rest is easy – just do it again … and again … and again … 500 times. Soon you’ll have planted your very own savanna!
We’ll let you take a little break so you can feel good about the incredible work you’ve accomplished. But only a little one … there are creatures out there who look at your newly planted saplings the way you look at fine chocolate. You need to protect your sweet, green treats … stay tuned for our next installment!
Read Savanna Restoration: Part 1 HERE.
Read Savanna Restoration: Part 2 HERE.
Read Savanna Restoration: Part 4 HERE.
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