Mississippi hardwoods are a valuable commodity from the seedling stage through harvest, so efforts to improve survival rates for this challenging crop are paramount for timber landowners.
Mississippi State University forestry researchers are working to protect landowners' investments by finding solutions to several aspects of hardwood regeneration.
"Hardwood seedling survival is a major problem facing landowners," said Dr. Andy Ezell, professor in MSU's Forest and Wildlife Research Center. "Hardwood seedlings cost more than pines, so it is even more important from an investment standpoint for them to survive. You don't want to have to replant."
Researchers are studying the importance of seedling size and the importance of the root system quality. They also are studying the impact of planting methods on the success rate.
"The amount of care and attention given to a plant makes a huge difference," Ezell said. "If you mistreat a seedling, you'll kill it pine or hardwood."
Ezell said nature had been especially tough on hardwood seedlings in recent droughty years. Researchers are studying the impact of controlling grasses and weeds that compete with seedlings for water, especially in the first year of growth.
"In a normal year, landowners can expect a 60 to 65 percent survival rate, but in a droughty year, it may be zero to 30 percent survival if they don't control weeds," Ezell said. "By controlling the weeds, landowners can improve their chances in a good year by 20 to 25 percent. In a droughty year, they can improve survival rates by 50 to 75 percent."
Clay County landowner Randy Robinette experienced the frustration of losing a majority of first crop seedlings in 1998 when a late summer drought and competing weeds robbed his young hardwoods of the scarce moisture.
"Maybe 20 to 25 percent of the seedlings survived in 1998, so we used herbicides to control broadleaf weeds and grasses around the replanted trees in 1999," Robinette said. "Despite another droughty first growing season, the survival rate was closer to 80 percent."
Ezell said with competition control, landowners can expect 75 to 80 percent of their hardwood seedlings to survive if planted properly.
"Pines are tough trees and grow faster, so landowners may not see such a drastic improvement in survival," he said. "Still, the survival and growth of the pines is improved by controlling these weeds during the first growing season."