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Planting And Growing Trees

Whoever has recently bought, inherited, or otherwise become the owner of
a farm, has usually found some part or parts of it devoted to wood; and
this, if not in excess, he will mainly preserve, while he studies and
plans with a view to the ultimate devotion to timber of just those
portions of his land that are best adapted to that use. In locating that
timber, I would have him consider these suggestions:

I. Land wisely planted with trees, and fenced so far as need be to keep
out cattle, costs nothing. Whatever else you grow involves labor and
expenditure; trees grow of their own accord. You may neglect them
utterly--may wander over the earth and be absent for ten or twenty
years, while your fences decay and your fields are overcropped to
exhaustion; even your meadows may be run out by late mowing and close
feeding at both ends of the season, till a dozen acres will hardly
subsist a span of horses and a cow; but your woods need only to be let
alone to insure that their value shall have decidedly increased during
your absence. They will richly reward labor and care in thinning,
trimming, and transplanting--you may profitably employ in them any time
that you can spare them--but they will do very well if simply let alone.
And, unlike any other product with which I am acquainted, you may take
crop after crop of wood from the same lot, and the soil will be richer
and more productive after the last than it was before the first. Whether
wholly because their roots permeate and break up the soil during their
life and enrich it in their decay, or for diverse reasons, it is
certainly true that land--and especially poor land--is enriched by
growing upon it a crop of almost any timber, the evergreens possibly
excepted. So, should you ever have land that you cannot till to profit,
whether because it is too poor, or because you have a sufficiency that
is better, you should at once devote it to wood.

II. Your springs and streams will be rendered more equable and enduring
by increasing the area and the luxuriance of your timber. They may have
become scanty and capricious under a policy of reckless, wholesale
destruction of trees; they will be reenforced and reinvigorated by
doubling the area of your woods, while quadrupling the number, and
increasing the average size, of your trees.

III. All ravines and steep hill-sides should be devoted to trees. Every
acre too rocky to be thoroughly cleared of stone and plowed should be
set apart for tree-growing. Wherever the soil will be gullied or washed
away by violent rains if under tillage, it should be excluded from
cultivation and given up to trees. Men often doubt the profit of heavy
manuring; and well they may, if three-fourths of the fertilizers applied
are soaked out and swept away by flooding rains or sudden thaws and
floated off to some distant sea or bay; but let all that is applied to
the soil only remain there till it is carted away in crops, and it will
hardly be possible to manure too highly for profit.

IV. Trees, especially evergreens, may be so disposed as to modify
agreeably the average temperature of your farm, or at least of the most
important parts of it. When I bought my place--or rather the first
installment of it--the best spot I could select for a garden lay at the
foot of a hill which half surrounded it on the south and east, leaving
it exposed to the full sweep of north and north-west winds; so that,
though the soil was gravelly and warm, my garden was likely to be cold
and backward. To remedy this, I planted four rows of evergreens (Balsam
Fir, Pine, Red Cedar, and Hemlock), along a low ridge bounding it on the
north, following an inward curve of the ridge at its west end; and those
evergreens have in sixteen years grown into very considerable trees,
forming a shady, cleanly, inviting bower, or sylvan retreat, daintily
carpeted with the fallen leaves of the overhanging firs. I judge that
the average temperature of the soil for some yards southward of this
wind-break is at least five degrees higher, throughout the growing
season, than it formerly was or would now be if these evergreens were
swept away; while the aspect of the place is agreeably diversified, and
even beautified, by their appearance. I believe it would sell for some
hundreds of dollars more with than without that thrifty, growing clump
of evergreens.

V. I have already urged, though not strongly enough, that crops, as well
as springs, will be improved by keeping the crests of ridges thickly
wooded, thus depositing moisture in Winter and Spring, to be slowly
yielded to the adjacent slopes during the heat and drouth of Summer. I
firmly believe that the slopes of a hill whose crest is heavily wooded
will yield larger average crops than slope and crest together would do
if both were bare of trees.

VI. The banks of considerable streams, ponds, etc., may often be so
planted with trees that these will shade more water than land, to the
comfort and satisfaction of the fish, and the protection of those banks
from abrasion by floods and rapid currents. Sycamore, Elm, and Willow,
do well here; if choice Grape-Vines are set beside and allowed to run
over some of them, the effect is good, and the grapes acceptable to man
and bird.

VII. Never forget that a good tree grows as thriftily and surely as a
poor one. Many a farmer has to-day ten to forty acres of indifferent
cord-wood where he might, at a very slight cost, have had instead an
equal quantity of choice timber, worth ten times as much. Hickory,
Chestnut, and Walnut, while they yield nuts that can be eaten or sold,
are worth far more as timber than an equal bulk of Beech, Birch,
Hemlock, or Red Oak. Chestnut has more than doubled in value within the
last few years, mainly because it has been found excellent for the
inside wood-work of dwellings. Locust also seems to be increasing in
value. Ten acres of large, thrifty Locust near this City would now buy a
pretty good farm; as I presume it would, if located near any of our
great cities.

VIII. Where several good varieties of Timber are grown together, some
insect or atmospheric trouble may blast one of them, yet leave the
residue alive and hearty. And, if all continue thrifty, some may be cut
out and sold, leaving others more room to grow and rapidly attain a
vigorous maturity.

IX. Wherever timber has become scarce and valuable, a wood-lot should be
thinned out, nevermore cleared off, unless it is to be devoted to a
different use. It seems to me that destroying a forest because we want
timber is like smothering a hive of bees because we want honey.

X. Timber should be cut with intelligent reference to the future. Locust
and other valuable trees that it is desirable should throw up shoots
from the stump, and rapidly reproduce their kind, should be cut in March
or April; while trees that you want to exterminate should be cut in
August, so that they may not sprout. There may be exceptions to this
rule; but I do not happen to recollect any. Evergreens do not sprout;
and I think these should be cut in Winter--at all events, not in Spring,
when full of sap and thus prone to rapid decay.

XI. Your plantation will furnish pleasant and profitable employment at
almost any season. I doubt that any one in this country has ever yet
bestowed so much labor and care on a young forest as it will amply
reward. Sow your seeds thickly; begin to thin the young trees when they
are a foot high, and to trim them so soon as they are three feet, and
you may have thousands thriving on a fertile acre, and pushing their
growth upward with a rapidity and to an altitude outrunning all

XII. Springs and streams will soon appear where none have appeared and
endured for generations, when we shall have reclothed the nakedness of
the Plains with adequate forests. Rains will become moderately frequent
where they are now rare, and confined to the season when they are of
least use to the husbandman.

I may have more to say of trees by-and-by, but rest here for the
present. The importance of the topic can hardly be overrated.

Next: Draining My Own

Previous: Growing Timber Tree-planting

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