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PINE SAVANNA RESTORATION

Restoration from Seedling Strip Disking
Thinning Exisiting PinesWeed Suppression
Management after ThinningHardwood Suppression
Prescribed Fire


Pine savannas once occurred across Tennessee. Shortleaf pine was the predominant pine found in savannas across Tennessee historically found growing with oaks and hickories. It occurred in portions of west and middle Tennessee and from the Eastern Highland Rim across east Tennessee. Shortleaf pine savanna acreage has been almost eliminated in the state. It has been replaced with oak and hickories with the loss of fire and extensive harvest of shortleaf pine. Historically loblolly pine could also be found growing in savannas in southern west and middle Tennessee and the southern part of the Cumberland Plateau. Throughout the state Virginia pine was found growing in old fields. In far eastern Tennessee pitch pine along with Virginia pine, and oaks made up the old field pine community. Species that relied on these habitats throughout the State include Bachman's sparrow, brown-headed nuthatch, and red-cockaded woodpeckers. Other early successional songbirds and wildlife such as quail, deer, and turkey benefit from the diverse plant species and habitat found in a pine savanna.


Pine savannas have diverse native grasses, forbs, and shrubs understory with a canopy of wide spaced mature pine. The thick bark of pines found in savannas protected them from periodic fires. Another adaptation is found in the shortleaf pine which is able to resprout from dormant buds if the top of the plant is killed by fire. Virginia pine was less adapted to frequent fires than shortleaf or loblolly pine. Fire in these systems helped maintain an open understory with bare ground, grasses and forbs that benefited grassland birds, mammals, snakes, and reptiles. Although no longer found in Tennessee the red-cocked woodpecker used these mature pine savannas for nesting.


When fire is excluded the savanna quickly reverts to species that are not fire tolerant and reduces the overall wildlife value of the site. Without fire hardwoods and shrubs out compete the grasses and forbs. The shortleaf pine is shade intolerant and without fire, seedlings and young trees can be quickly replaced with hardwoods. As the grasses and forbs replaced by shrubs and hardwoods, species like Bachman's sparrow and northern bobwhite can no longer use the habitat.


There are two ways to restore a pine savanna. The first is by planting pines in a crop field, pasture, or clearcut. The second is by thinning already existing pines which may have been planted under the Conservation Reserve Program, other cost-share programs, or for future revenue on poor sites. Typically pines planted in the state were loblolly because of its faster growth and ease of establishment. Loblolly historically occurred in western Tennessee east to the Cumberland Plateau. In Middle Tennessee and the Cumberland Plateau it occurred south of Interstate 40. When planting a pine savanna it is highly recommended that shortleaf pine be given preference over other pine species. If managed properly a pine savanna can provide wildlife habitat immediately and potential revenue in 35 to 50 years.

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Restoration from Seedling

Restoring a pine savanna from seedlings is relatively easy. Any open ground that has been cropped, pastured or fallow ground can be used. It is not uncommon for ridge tops with poor soil to be planted to pines after the area has been clearcut of hardwoods. Often the best sites for pine restoration are those that are highly erodible and that have shallow rocky ground, thin soil with little organic material, or sandy soil. Sites with high organic material or wet sites should not be restored to a pine savanna because hardwoods that are better adapted to these sites will likely out compete pine seedling.

Shortleaf savannas can be restored statewide. Loblolly pine has been planted from the Cumberland plateau west. Pitch can be planted eastern Tennessee. Virginia pine should only be planted as a component a savanna restoration or old field and not planted as a single species. If your goal is to create a true pine savanna restoration you should also consider planting oaks and hickories as a part of the savanna. Hardwoods that can be planted in the restoration include black oak, blackjack oak, scarlet oak, post oak, white oak, chestnut oak, shagbark and shellbark hickory.


When planting pine seedlings a spacing of 16ft X 16ft (170 trees/acre) should be used. If oaks or hickories are to be planted they should be planted at the same spacing as the pine seedlings. When adding an oak/hickory component to you savanna pines should be planted where pines typically grow. A forester or biologist can assist you with the planning. Plant oaks and pines in blocks rather than evenly spaced across the field or in single species rows. You can also plant blocks at a spacing of 12ft x 12ft (303 trees/care), but the total number of trees per acre should not exceed 170. When using the tighter 303 trees/acre, it should be used in combination with a 20ft X 20ft (109 trees/acre). In order to maintain the 170 trees/acre leave openings that will be established to native grasses and forbs.


To increase diversity on sites that were cropped or other open ground plant native grass and forbs Planting rate should be 3lbs to 4lbs pure live seed/acre (minimum 3 species) of native grass and 2lbs to 4 lbs (minimum 8 species) native forbs. In some instance such as clearcuts that have not been farmed the seedbank may contain enough viable native grasses and forbs that additional seeding is not needed. See Native Grass and Forb Establishment and Management and Native Grasses and Forbs for Wildlife for additional information on planting and management.

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Restoration and Management of Existing Pines

Thinning Existing Pines

Pine stands planted at a rate of 100 to 250 trees/acre do not require thinning and should not need harvesting until 30 to 50 years of age. Pines planted at greater than 250 seedlings/acre will need a thinning. Canopy closer will take longer on those planted at rates between 250 and 400 seedlings/acre then those planted above 400 seedligns/acre. Thinnings can be either pre-commercial (3-12 years) or a pulpwood thinning ( >15 years) when trees have a diameter at breast of 6 to 10 inches. If pines were planted at a rate above 250 tree/acre and have not been thinned, reduce basal area to an average of 50 ft2/acre - 60 ft2/acre for a medium wildlife value or 30 ft2/acre -40 ft2/acre for high wildlife value.

A pre-commercial thinning (greater than 250 seedlings/acre planted) is typically done between stand 3 -12 years when there is a limited pulpwood market or wildlife is the primary interest. One option which can only be used on young 1 to 3 year old trees is to use a large disk or mower to cut down every 2nd, 3rd or 4th row. Beyond that age more specialized equipment is needed. For older trees a hand held forestry brushcutter which is basically a weedwacker with a saw blade can be used to remove deformed or injured trees in the rows or to remove whole rows. An option for larger trees is to use a forestry mulcher or tree shear to remove every 2nd, 3rd or 4th row and remove any deformed or injured trees in remaining rows. Pre-commercial thinnings can be expensive, unless cost-share is available. Thinning at this early age is to provide more wildlife value and provide for saw timber production in areas that pulpwood harvest may not be viable. It is often easier and more cost effective to plant fewer seedlings if wildlife habitat is your ultimate goal.


If wildlife and not pulpwood is your priority, you may want to use prescribed fire to randomly thin trees. The number of trees and which ones will be killed by fire is totally random. A properly trained forester or biologist can help with planning a prescribed fire, but moisture levels and fuels are what will dictate which trees are damaged or killed by fire. This method is the trickiest and least predictable, but will create a mosaic of pines, grasses, and forbs which will benefit the most species of wildlife.

If you planted your pines under Conservation Reserve Program, another cost-share program, or purchased the property with existing older pines (Greater than 12 years). You will want to plan on thinning your pines as soon as possible. Hopefully there is a pulpwood market in your area that you will be able to sell your pines to. When selling your pines for pulpwood do not plan on making much money, consider yourself lucky if you do not have to pay for the thinning. Pulpwood markets can be extremely volatile.


When you talk with a forester you will hear thinning methods such as row thinning and/or selective thinning. Row thinning is solely used on planted pines. In row thinning alternate rows are removed from the stand. Typically every third, fourth, fifth, or seventh row might be removed. Selective thinning can be used on naturally regenerated or planted pines. In a selective cutting individual trees are selectively removed from the stand. Selection is generally based on position, form, and health of individual trees. More typically a combination thinning which includes row thinning and selective thinning will be used. By using a combination thinning the logger is able to remove 1 or 2 rows, while leaving other rows standing so equipment can be moved through the stand to harvest areas selectively. The logger then will selectively cut the trees remaining in the uncut rows.


Common thinning options that you may hear mentioned from a forester are: 1) remove every third row, 2) remove every other row, 3) remove two rows and leave two rows, and 4) remove every fourth row with the selective removal of individual trees in between the cut rows. There is no particular right way as long as you reduce the basal area the recommended amount. However, options 3 and 4 will provide a wider area for sunlight to reach the ground and should help encourage a better herbaceous layer.

Your ultimate goal with your thinning is to open up the canopy enough for light to reach the ground. For medium wildlife value your final average basal area should be between 50ft2/acre - 60ft2/acre. For an open savanna and high wildlife value the basal area should be between 30ft2/acre - 40ft2/acre. If you use a medium wildlife value thinning you will probably need to thin again in another 5 to 10 years to maintain the stand density. It is often better to thin more initially, rather than having to have a logger come back and thin again especially with pulp markets they way they are.


If you have managed your pine properly you should expect to be able to harvest quality sawlogs off of your pine stand at 35 to 45 years of age. If pine has not been thinned previously the sawlog value will be less. When thinning your older stand the target basal area should be 15 ft2/acre - 30 ft2/acre. The lower basal area will create a very open transition between grassland and savanna while the higher basal area will create a sparse enough canopy to allow a mix of grass and forbs on the ground. When having your pine stand thinned at this later age the method used will be a selective harvest.

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Management after Thinning

Whether you planted <250 seedlings/acre or >250/seedlings/acre you will need to manage the understory for the best wildlife habitat. Pine stands planted at > 250 seedlings/acre will have limited management until after thinning in order to maintain the understory for wildlife. Three options are available to manage the native grass and forb understory of your pines. These include: 1) prescribed fire, 2)strip disking, 3) herbicide. Each practice has its own advantages The preferred method is fire, but strip disking can also be effective. Herbicide application should be limited to spot spraying of hardwoods and invasive plants.

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Prescribed Fire

Prescribed fire can be used to maintain pine stands by reducing hardwood and shrub competition and maintaining native grasses and forbs in the stand. Pines planted at less than 250 stems/acre can be burned when the pines reach 6 to 10ft in height or approximately 10 years of age. Pines planted at greater than 300 stems/ acre can be burned at 6 to 10 ft in height also, but the wildlife value of this management will be limited. Burning heavier seeded pines will reduce fuel loads and competition from hardwoods.


Timing, fuel load, and moisture levels are key factors which need to be taken into consideration when burning a young pine stand. Trees 6 to 10ft tall can with stand a cool fire, but if a hot fire with low relative humidity is used tree can be damaged or killed. The ideal time for a cool fire is from December 1 through March 30th when the pines and other vegetation are not actively growing. Fires conducted after or during a 2 to 7 day cold spell where temperatures are at or below freezing are less likely to damage young pines. This is because the pines are not actively growing and nutrient and sap are not actively moving through the tree. In some cases the heat and smoke may cause needles to brown and fall off. Young pines should recover with new needles the next summer after the burn. The value of fire is that it will remove dead trees and dead lower branches and improve the relative quality of saw logs and wildlife habitat.


Pines should be burned on a 2 to 4 year rotation. If hardwoods are an issue, consider burning on a 2 year rotation or a annual burn for 5 to 10 consecutive years to help deplete the hardwood rootstock. Annual burning reduces the overall wildlife value of a field and will encourage development of grasses over forbs. More information on planning and implementing see our section on prescribed fire. Contact a forester or biologist to assist you with planning and implementing a prescribed burn plan in your pines.

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Strip Disking

Disking is probably the best alterative if you are not sure of using fire. It creates bare ground, disturbs the soil for seed to germinate in, and reduces thatch build up. If your pines are planted with row spacing 12 ft or wider you should be able to use strip disking between the rows to maintain the herbaceous vegetation. Pines planted on narrower row spacing will not allow disking to be used until after the first thinning which will increase the distance between rows. After thinning, disking the field on a 2 or 3 year rotations is ideal for providing quality habitat for wildlife. You should leave nondisked areas between disked areas. The nondisked areas can then be disked in subsequent year. Try and leave a 1 to 2 ft buffer nondisked along each side of the seedling rows to protect the roots from disturbance. See strip disking for additional information.


If you plan on using strip disking on wider row spacing, you should mark each row adequately so that you do not run over young trees. Depending on the weed coverage and height you may want to mark every 20 ft to 50 ft of row. As the trees mature, their branches will reduce your ability to disk. Depending on the width of the rows you may get from 2 to 6 years worth of disking before the branches reach too far out into the rows. You can either hold off any further management until after thinning or consider a low intensity winter burn at year 10. See the Prescribed Fire in Pines for information on using fire in your pines.

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Herbicides use in Pines

Weed suppression

During the first 2 to 3 years if you are unable to use disking or other management techniques to reduce competition of your seedlings with weeds. You should consider using an appropriate herbicide that is selective for broadleaf weeds or grasses over your pines. You can typically spray a 1 to 2 ft strip of herbicide over your pines that will reduce weed competition.

Recommended Herbicides for Strip Application

Active Ingredient

Trade Name

Suggested Rate

Control

clethodim (12.6%)

Envoy

12 to 32 oz/acre

grass

imazapyr (53.1%)

Arsenal

4 to 10 oz/acre

grass, broadleaf weeds, brambles

sulfometuron methyl (56.25%)

+

Metsulfuron methyl (15%)

Oust Extra

2 2/3 to 4 oz/acre

herbaceous weeds

sulfometuron methyl (75%)

Oust XP

2 to 8 oz/acre for loblolly & Virginia pine

1 to 2 oz/acre shortleaf pine

grasses, broadleaf weeds

clopyralid (40.9%)

Transline

1/4 to 1 1/3 pint/acre

broadleaf weeds

Always consult the herbicide label before applying. For additional information consult with a forester.

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Hardwood suppression

If you do not use fire to maintain your pine savanna, hardwoods will eventually become an issue. Over time hardwoods will out compete your pines and herbaceous layers resulting in a low quality savanna.

Recommended Herbicides for Hardwood Suppression

Active Ingredient

Trade Name

Suggested Rate

Control

imazapyr (53.1%)

Arsenal

1 to 2 pints/acre

grass, broadleaf weeds, brambles, hardwoods

sulfometuron methyl (56.25%)

+

metsulfuron methyl

+

imazapyr (53.1%)

Oust Extra

+

Arsenal AC



4 oz/acre Oust Extra

+

8 to 16 oz/acre Arsenal AC

hardwoods

broadleaf weeds

brambles

sulfometuron methyl (75%)

Oust XP

2 to 8 oz/acre for loblolly & Virginia pine

1 to 2 oz/acre shortleaf pine

Grasses, broadleaf weeds

triclopyr (44.4%)

Garlon 3A

4 to 20 oz/ 3 gallons water

spot application of hardwoods


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  What to do when

Use the planning calendar below for tips on enhancing your land throughout the year. Click any of the selections below for more details.






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