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Time to get tree ready

As I write this column the sound of rain on the roof is certainly pleasing to the ear. Many of you will agree we need a whole lot more to fill up dams and get creeks flowing again but at least we know that it can actually rain in our part of the world. The autumn break also helps us tree folk by providing an incentive for landholders to maybe plant their trees in the autumn. Autumn breaks have been very irregular the last few years and so most of us have only been able to depend on spring as THE time to plant. Of course for some of us, last year may have been an exception to that rule as well.
So, can we plant our farm trees in the autumn and early winter? Let's discuss the pros and cons.


1) If the break is early enough and the rains are sufficient to moisten the soil, then an autumn planting may be a good time to plant. The soil is still warm from the summer heat so the seedlings will want to grow especially with adequate moisture. The seedling will also harden up (form wood and tough leaves) prior to potentially damaging frosts later in the winter.

2) Many farmers find spring a very busy time with hay, silage, lambing, shearing, sowing crops, etc and unfortunately, tree planting can get overlooked on the priority list. An autumn planting can help alleviate some of the spring work load.

3) Over the winter the seedlings may not put on much growth above the ground but will continue to put on root growth (albeit slowly) and by early summer as the soil dries out the roots may have travelled deep enough into the subsoil to be fairly drought proof.

4) If you live in a frost free (or close to it) area and your soils are not prone to waterlogging, autumn may actually be the best time to plant for you, full stop.


1) If the autumn break turns into a fizzer (for instance, we get April rains and May drought), what may have been enough soil moisture for your seedlings early on may not be by the end of May especially if May stays warm.

2) Of course you will do some autumn weed control prior to planting in the autumn, but come spring you may get a second germination of grass/weeds in the tree spots/lines. Herbicide application in this situation will be more difficult once the seedlings are in the ground. With this in mind, you may have to spray your plantation area in the spring prior to the autumn planting and then again just before planting to kill a sufficient amount of weed seeds.

3) Waterlogging (remember that?) can kill young seedlings if they are sitting in these conditions for weeks, especially in cold soils.

4) Frosts will kill young tender seedlings especially if we get successive frosts over a few days.

Of course, by the time you read this it may already be past the opportune time for an autumn planting. So, it looks like a spring planting for you. And after last year when spring didn't really happen try to be prepared for this year.

1) Keep an eye on the rain gauge. Are you having average winter rains at your property? If it appears to be drier than usual, be prepared for your upcoming planting. You may have to go earlier than you had originally planned.
2) Ring the nursery or landcare coordinator to make sure you know how many trees you have on order, and when they will be ready to pick up.
3) Get your weed control done well in advance of planting. Remember, you can plant in wet weather but you need dry weather to spray herbicide. Don't put it off, take advantage of a few sunny days.
4) Will you be needing your plantation fenced? Get it organised now!

5) How about those rabbit burrows down the back corner paddock. Do it now!

6) Once all of the above is completed then you can go with the flow when it comes to the actual tree planting. If spring dries out a bit and warms up quickly, consider planting early. If we are having a "normal" spring (wet September and October) you might have some breathing space for when you plant.

Good luck with your tree planting. There ain't nothing better than seeing those little seedlings firing through that first summer with not a care in the world. I reckon it makes my job worth it. What about you?!

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