When it comes to planting trees, you can easily find proponents and critics of both approaches. The reality is that hand-planting and machine-planting, aka mechanical-planting, both have pros and cons. Therefore, it’s vital to carefully consider your options and to look closely at the land in question. After all, what works best in one area isn’t always going to be the right solution for another tract of land.
How Does Hand-Planting Work?
Although some companies stump loudly for machine-planting, those of us at Green Hill Land and Timber do a lot of hand-planting and make certain it is done correctly. There are many reasons for this, which we’ll detail in full below.
To begin, let’s look at what hand-planting means. Rather than being some archaic process that eschews modern tools altogether, hand-planted trees are placed into the ground with care by expert planters. These professionals tend to utilize equipment such as the HoeDad Forest Planting Tool, which is also used by the National Forest Service.
With these specially angled tools, professionals can move much more quickly than ever before. They can also provide the attention to detail and personalized care that is missing when a machine plants a tree. This helps even the playing field between the pros and cons of both planting methods.
How Does Machine-Planting Work?
A V-Blade bulldozer with heavy duty mechanical planters can cover a large area in a relatively short period of time. However, they may require more prep work than hand-planting as the equipment can easily become damaged. Additionally, the planting mechanism may skip over spots that aren’t properly prepped, leaving unsightly gaps in the tree line.
One thing that a lot of people may not realize is that machine-planting requires two people per machine. That’s because the V-Blade bulldozer parts the debris while pulling the planter. The machine-planter opens a trench, insert the seedling and packs the dirt around the seedling, creating nice rows in the dirt. A person still must put the seedlings into the ground or into the planting chain that inserts tree into the trench. Of course, this is done more easily while sitting on the back of the machine, but it still requires precise knowledge and timing. Automated options that would remove the need for both workers do exist, but they’ve had a very difficult time working properly in real world conditions.
Pros of Hand-Planting Trees
Those who ignore hand-planting in favor of mechanical-planting usually look only at the perceived time savings. Yet there are many positive reasons to consider staying with the method that’s been helping humans arrange tree lines for centuries. With hand-planting, you can:
- Retain complete control over where each sapling or tree is planted.
- Make quick decisions about any necessary variances.
- Spot problematic areas and take steps to correct them without a lot of early prep work.
- Start planting without needing to have the entire area mechanically site prepared. This saves money.
- Plant trees at virtually any slope.
- Plant trees during various weather conditions.
- Cost is typically 25% to 30% cheaper.
Cons of Hand-Planting Trees
No matter how many benefits a process has, there is always going to be a flipside. However, with hand-planting, you will be restricted by:
- If the planting crew is not experienced, you may have issues with J-rooting (when tree is improperly inserted in ground and root is turned up like a J). The tree will have less chance of surviving and most likely will underperform in growth.
- Hand-planters tire more easily and may not plant trees correctly.
- Tree rows may not be as evenly spaced and as straight as mechanical planting.
Pros of Machine-Planting Trees
Although we generally prefer hand-planting, there are some pros associated with the machine-planting method. That’s why some people prefer this approach or a mixture of both machine and hand-planted trees. Planting equipment is known for offering:
- A faster planting process that can reach as high as 5,000 planted trees per hour in optimal conditions, although this number is usually much lower.
- Requires a smaller workforce to plant trees in a large area.
- High second-year survival rates.
- A truly uniform approach to planting rows.
- Less physical stress is placed on the workers.
Cons of Machine-Planting Trees
If speed is your primary consideration, you may be leaning toward a mechanical planting option. However, it’s wise to also consider the numerous cons associated with this method, including:
- Most machines won’t be able to accommodate you if the land’s slope is steeper than 20 percent.
- Weather conditions play a big role in using a machine to plant trees. If the ground is too wet, the machines won’t work properly.
- The site may need to be extensively prepared to get the best results from mechanical tree planting.
- Failure to properly clear the site may cause machine damage, undesired downtime, and areas being skipped.
- Cost tend to be higher than hand-planting, but site may require machine planting.
Which Method is Right for You?
We may use one method over the other, but that doesn’t mean it’s always right for you or your tract of land to be reforested. We also usually do some form of site preparation to control competing vegetation. This enable your newly planted seedlings to have a better survival rate and increased growth rate from the beginning. Fortunately, the registered foresters at Green Hill can help you assess the land to decide which planting option is best for the existing conditions. We can discuss these conditions with you, when it is time to plan reforesting your property.
Ultimately, your budget and the land itself will make the best argument for whether hand-planting or machine-planting is most viable. No matter what you choose, we’re here to help! Contact us today to learn more about reforestation of your land and buying or selling land in Georgia and South Caroli