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Longleaf Pine Establishment and Management

Longleaf Pine Establishment and Management

Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) is estimated at the time of European settlement to have occurred across some 21 million acres of Georgia’s Coastal Plain and Ridge and Valley Provinces. It is a fire-adapted species that is easily integrated with wildlife management.  

Long-term planning is the key to successful longleaf pine establishment and management.  Site preparation, planting, competition control and periodic management practices (especially prescribed fire) are the key components to consider in the planning process. Having a schedule and description of activities can reduce costs and prevent mistakes. 

Past management and current site conditions often dictate management strategies for future establishment on recently cutover forest stands, agricultural fields, or pastures.  Competitive woody stems, exotic grasses, soil types, and compaction are important considerations.  Site preparation techniques include the single or combined use of herbicides, fire, and mechanical equipment. It is critically important to eliminate exotic grasses (e.g., Bermuda, fescue, bahia) before longleaf seedlings are planted. This is best accomplished by initially removing old thatch layer of grass with a winter prescribed burn. Treat with an appropriate herbicide during spring green-up and allow land to go fallow for one growing season before planting the seedlings the following fall. Contact your local County Cooperative Extension Agent or Georgia Forestry Commission Forester for specific recommendations.

Make sure seedlings come from a local source.  Local varieties are site-adapted, exhibit better growth, and have improved disease resistance.  Actively seek out vendors up to 1-year in advance of planting to ensure that quality seedlings are available in the quantity needed. Seedlings can be purchased as containerized or bareroot; however survival rates for containerized seedlings are typically higher.  Optimum planting rates where wildlife is a primary objective are  605 trees (6’x12’) per acre or less.  Divide the stand into manageable compartments with 30-60 ft wide firebreaks, and 2-5 ac wildlife openings throughout when designing layout to better facilitate future management.  Seedlings should be planted during dormant late fall to early winter months when the upper 6 inches of soil is moist. To ensure seedling survival, it is critical to plant seedlings so that the terminal bud remains above ground level. The root collar of seedlings should be about ¼ inch beneath the soil surface when planted. 

Choose an experienced, reputable planter that will follow your design layout.   Machine-planted stands will normally be in straight rows with exact spacing and larger numbers of seedlings can be planted with less manpower.  Hand-planted stands tend to be more irregular in spacing, and often times, too many seedlings are planted on the site which can inhibit future access, decrease management potential, inhibit growth, and increase cost.  If enrolled in a federal program for planting longleaf, it is imperative that planting guidelines are followed to ensure funding is not jeopardized.

Once seedlings are established, management needs should be addressed within the first two years. Competition control is often necessary to help young seedlings in the “grass stage” to “bolt” or “push out”.  Stands should be prescribe burned as soon as possible after the first growing season and on a two to three year rotation thereafter. Burning helps control brown-spot needle blight, jumps seedlings out of the grass stage, improves wildlife habitat and helps reduce lateral limb growth, thereby improving wood quality.  In addition to prescribed fire, thinning and final harvest are major management components. The timing and frequency of thinning is dependent upon site characteristics and management objectives, but as a rule of thumb throughout the life of the stand 30+ percent of the ground should be maintained in direct sunlight.   When possible thinning should occur during winter so that resulting disturbances will promote favorable vegetative structure and forage for wildlife.  Rotation age may vary, but long rotations offer greater management flexibility.  

Download the Burning Young Longleaf brochure for additional information

Below Photos: Longleaf Post-Burn (2009) and same area 2010 

--Jason Lupardus, Georgia DNR, Wildlife Resources Division

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