AF STAFF |LEDUC COUNTY
Planning a shelterbelt for your farm?
Then think diversity, don’t get hung up on straight rows, and consider the merits – and drawbacks – of plastic mulch, say the experts.
About 20 Leduc County residents recently took a tour of some established shelterbelts – another highly recommended move – and received tips from shelterbelt experts.
At one of the sites, trees were planted into black plastic mulch. This type of mulch, which isn’t biodegradable, comes in a roll of non-perforated plastic, will last about five years, and is placed with an applicator machine that buries the edges of the plastic under the ground
“It works pretty well for weed control, and soil and moisture conservation,” said Don George, a senior agroforestry technician with Agriculture Canada.
Black plastic will cut the need for weeding for three to five years, but you still need to weed in between rows and you’ve got to be careful when running machinery.
“If you get too close and you grab some of that mulch, you’re going to rip six feet out before you get the tractor stopped, and it’s kind of a mess,” said George.
The discs of the applicator throw up dirt on either side of the mulch, so George suggests running a quad over the mound to pack it down. He also recommends checking to ensure the plastic won’t girdle the tree.
Planning your shelterbelt
Different species of trees require different spacing – generally eight feet between deciduous trees and 12 feet for members of the evergreen family.
But you can also plant trees much closer together to begin with, said Toso Bozic, a woodlot specialist and agroforester with Alberta Agriculture. That provides good screening in the early years, and allows you to cull the weaker trees later on.
However, many people don’t know how to thin properly, warned George.
“Pretty soon, you’re leaving a sickly one and taking out a really good one,” he said. “It’s not going to grow like you want it to.”
Don’t feel compelled to plant in straight lines or to only plant one type of species at a time, said Bozic.
A good first step is to drive around and look at mature shelterbelts in order to get ideas.
“Before you start planting, educate yourself and be really sure what kind of species you want to put in,” he said.
Bozic recommends species that are native to Alberta and which are a good match for the elevation and drainage of your land. Also, consider how falling leaves, needles and fruits will affect maintenance.
Keeping your shelterbelt healthy
May, June and July are crucial for monitoring as that’s when diseases or insects will attack, said Bozic. If you can’t identify an insect, consult an expert, both men said.
“Don’t get overexcited and start spraying right away because 80 per cent of the bugs are beneficial,” said George.
Many trees are killed by herbicide and pesticide drift from fields and lawns, and farmers need to take great care when spraying, said Bozic. Ditto when using fertilizer or manure around trees. One danger is applying fertilizer too late in year. If a tree is growing when frost hits, it can result in damage or death.
“Don’tgetoverexcitedand startsprayingrightaway because80percentofthe bugsarebeneficial.”