Propagating / Re-establishing brush to improve habitats

CHARLES COFFMAN, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Lubbock, TX 79414

Abstract: Establishing woody species can be difficult and result in large death losses the first growing season. To improve results proper planning, planting and maintenance following planting must be followed. Several new techniques have been developed to increase ease of planting, weed control and moisture conservation which greatly increase the success of the planting.

Throughout Texas, thousands of native and introduced barerooted woody seedlings have been planted for wildlife. A large percent of these plantings have failed the first and second growing season. These large death losses have discouraged landowners and in many cases been the cause of limiting new plantings.

Many areas need increased woody vegetation to improve wildlife habitat, improve the environment and aesthetics of the ecosystem plus provide biodiversity. The areas most needing these type plantings include open rangeland, improved pastureland, conservation reserve program planting and cultivated land. Landowners interest is high but lack of experience, confidence or time constraints limit good success.

Site preparation

Site preparation is a critical factor to help ensure the success of any woody planting. The objectives are loosening of the rooting zone for better root penetration, better water infiltration and reduction of competition from unwanted vegetation. Short cuts should not be taken but the best site preparation possible.

At a minimum, 3 feet on both sides of each tree row should be prepared. Soil conditions and vegetative cover will dictate the type of equipment that will be needed. As a minimum disking thoroughly is recommended. In loam or clay soils deep plowing or chiseling will be needed to break up the subsoil. For best results the site preparation should begin the fall before seedlings will be planted.


One of the most common inquiries of landowners is for easier and faster methods of planting seedlings. Very few tree planters are available in South and West Texas and most plantings are installed by hand. An inexpensive practical method has been developed with good establishment results. This method is called a Water Gun Planter (Fig. 1). Comparison of several tree plantings on the High Plains using hand equipment, power auger, tree planter and the water gun showed all methods give good survival when done properly.

Practical experience shows that the tree planter is faster, if available, but the water gun is much faster than hand equipment or a power auger. The water gun planter can utilizes most commercially available spray rig. The spray rig we use has a 100 gallon tank, centrifugal pump, 5 HP gasoline engine and 25 feet of 90 PSI 3/4 inch hose. Necessary plumbing for recirculation, hose hookup and shutoff are included. A second hose may be installed which allows for the use of 2 water guns at one time.

The gun itself is constructed of 3/4 inch galvanized pipe. Several designs have been constructed and tested. The gun has a ball valve installed to shut the water on and off. Fins are installed to allow for enlarging the planting hole to necessary width. A 1/4 inch hole is drilled into the end plug to regulate water output and create necessary pressure to enlarge the planting hole.

A nearby source of water or a available nurse tank is needed for the water gun. Field evaluation results have shown that 1/2 to 1 1/2 gallons is needed for each planting hole. This depends on soil type, site preparation and available soil moisture.

This method will not work in rocky soils or heavy clay soils that have not been chiseled or deep broken. These soils must be broke below depth that seedlings will be planted. The planting hole must be deep enough for the entire root system. The root system should be straight and assume a natural position in the planting hole. The seedling should be planted 1 to 2 inches deeper than it grew in the nursery. The soil should be packed firmly to eliminate air pockets. Another precaution is to assure that any spray rig used must be properly cleaned prior to use in planting seedlings. Chemical residues or fertilizers can kill or injury new seedlings.

The planting stock should be planted as soon as possible after they have been received. If this is not possible barerooted stock should be heeled-in. Choose a cool, moist site and place the plants in a trench about 1 to 2 inches below the root collar. Soil should be packed firmly around the roots to eliminate air pockets. Water only enough to keep soil moist. Containerized stock should be kept in a cool place and watered as needed.

To ensure good survivability of planting stock proper care must be taken prior to planting and at time of plating. Bare rooted stock must never have their roots exposed to the air. They should be kept moist and taken directly from a moist environment to the soil. Keeping them in a bucket of water or a mixture of water and soil works well. All seedlings must be watered thoroughly as soon after planting as possible (when using the water gun this is completed when planted).

Moisture management

In areas of less than 25 inches of annual rainfall, supplemental water is a must. A drip irrigation system, hand watering or water harvesting can be used. Research and experience has proven that in most cases water harvesting works the best.

Water harvesting (Fig. 2) utilizes a professional weight black polypropylene geo-textile fabric to store rainfall, reduce evaporation and control competing vegetation. Several studies have demonstrated increased survival rates, reduced or eliminated need of cultivation and chemicals used for weed control. One water harvesting study in Midland County had a 98% survival rate after four years. It averaged nearly 10 inches of growth each year. During the 4 years rainfall averaged 13 inches per year. The planting was watered at planting and did not receive any additional supplemental water during the 4 years. Another water harvesting study in Bailey County had a 92% survival rate after 4 growing seasons. Precipitation during the 4 years averaged 16 inches per year. An average of 452% growth was recorded over the four years. This planting did receive 2 hand waterings during the first growing season following planting.

Water harvesting involves several steps to insure success. The site should be disked and if needed deep chiseling the fall before planting. This allows for the control of competing vegetation prior to planting. The deep chiseling increases the rate of infiltration and allows for better root development of planted seedlings.

The geo-textile fabric can be installed by hand or laid by a specialized machine. The machine, pulled behind a tractor, lays out the fabric and covers the edges with soil which holds it in place. If laid by hand “U” shaped 6-12 inch metal pins are used to hold fabric in place. The pins are available commercially. They are driven in the soil at 2 to 3 feet intervals along the edge of the fabric. For best results fabric should be laid the entire length of the planted row. If mottes or individual seedlings are planted a 6 by 6 foot square around each seedling provides good results.

Seedling protection

In many cases the new seedlings must be protected from livestock. The best method is to fence the new planted area. Grazing animals eat or trample young seedling and even damage older plants by overbrowsing. Rabbits, mice and other rodents damage seedlings. They will chew the bark, remove small branches and girdle stems and trunks. The young seedlings can be protected by the use of wire cages or if fenced using poultry netting on the bottom of the fence. Also commercial polyethylene guards and liquid repellents are available.>

Competing vegetation control

For optimum survival and growth, the weeds should be controlled for at least a 3 foot circle around the seedlings. If the geo-textile fabric is used this will give the best weed control. Chemicals and mechanical methods also work well if properly timed and repeated as need.


To obtain desired result proper planning, planting and management must be carried out. The planning process should start the year before planting to allow needed time to have everything ready for the spring planting period.

The site preparation should begin the fall before planting. Proper planting methods should be utilized. Geo-tetile fabric when used will provide the best weed control and moisture conditions for young seedlings. The young seedlings need to be protected from livestock, rabbits and rodents. back?

Figure 1. Water gun planter design.

Figure 2. Water harvesting technique.

Literature Cited

Brown, D., H. Brockman and M. Houck, Jr. 1991. Rainfall Harvesting In Southwestern Windbreaks. Proc. 3rd Int’l. Windbreak and Agroforestry Symp. p. 63.

Coffman, C. 1993. Improved methods for establishing woody plantings in the Rolling Plains of Texas. Proc. Native Plant Society of Texas Symp., p. 36.

U.S.D.A. File Data. N.R.C.S. Lubbock Zone Office, Lubbock, Texas. 1994 and 1995.

Wright, T. 1991. Polypropylene weed barriers: a revolution in arid lands tree plantings. Proc. 3rd Int’l. Windbreak and Agroforestry Symp. p. 27.

Comments: Dale Rollins, Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist
Updated: Mar. 18, 1997

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