When my wife and I came to our 400-acre mountain forest ranch in 1968, we started planting redwood and fir seedlings almost immediately. This planting allowed us to earn "cost shares" from a government program, Agriculture Conservation Program (ASCP). We were particularly interested in learning how to plant trees successfully as we had decided to earn our living by selling Christmas trees. During the 40 years that we have been planting and monitoring our successes and failures, we actually planted 125,000 seedlings of which 60,000 became saleable Christmas trees and the rest were planted as forest trees. In the beginning our forest planting survival rates were dismal - less than 5%. Now, I can guarantee 90%+ survival rates (even in the worse possible conditions) by following the lessons we have learned over the past 40 years.
There are several important factors that will make a difference between success and failure in your survival rates: healthy seedlings, shipping and handling of seedlings prior to planting, site conditions, type of soil, site preparation, time of planting, special conditions such as steep slopes vs. flatlands, weather conditions, site exposure, and the planting technique itself.
There are several ways to purchase seedlings – bare rootstock or container stock (I favor #16 plugs or container stock). They can be purchased directly from the nurseries 100 at a time or in very large quantities (1000 or more). Contact The L.A. Moran Reforestation Center at (530) 753-2441 for information about cone and seed processing, seed availability for approved projects, and private nursery resources.
a. Existing Growth
Look at the existing redwoods in the area. Are there remnants of large, old growth, redwood stumps? Look at the suckers or second growth trees at the site as well. Do they have sharp, spear-like tops or flat tops? Sharp, pointed tops indicate good growth; flat tops evidence poor growth. Also, look at the bark. Aggressive, deep cracks in the bark indicate good growth, whereas smooth bark is not a good sign. Also,
Look carefully at the soils. If they are heavy, clay-like soils, that is good. Gravely soils are not appropriate for redwoods, but they would be good for Douglas Firs.
Alluvial sites near streams or rivers where there is some flooding are good sites. However, areas with standing water for long periods of time would not be a good place for redwoods and especially not for Douglas Fir as they need very good drainage to survive.
Bare knolls and open meadows with south and west-facing slopes indicate excessive heat and dry conditions. If the soils are good, these sites can be planted successfully if a nursery tree is planted first (like a Monterey pine or Coulter pine that will grow in hot dry conditions). Then when these trees have grown enough to create some shade, the redwoods can successfully grow in the shade of the nurse tree. But you will need patience as it may take 10 years or so before the shade is created.
The best time to plant is in the fall after 4-5 inches of rain. Do not plant after mid February as this too late in the season for the seedling to become established.
With a hoe scrape a 2-foot, square area clear of grass and plant seedling with a planting hoe, planting bar, or shovel. If planting a small number of trees, a shovel works best as you can then loosen the soil for about a foot around where you are planting. If you are planting bare rootstock, make sure that all of the roots are pointing down. If the roots are too long, cut them off rather than having them turn up as you plant.
On a steep slope, use a shovel and dig down about a foot upslope and deposit the dirt below the planting area so that you are forming a water bowl collecting late rains and plant the redwoods as deep into the hole as possible without covering any needles. The idea is that the heat is what usually kills the tree - not the lack of moisture.
After planting the seedling, look around for sticks and debris to put around the seedling the create some shade. This helps a lot in your survival rate.
d. Ongoing Care
Do note use herbicides to control grass for at least the first 3 years as these do more harm than good on newly planted seedlings.
Good luck, and best wishes from the REDWOOD FOREST INSTITUTE. Send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 707 459 2391 if you have any questions or need more information.