Treeplanting during Drought
As I write this storms are rumbling around the horizon, and we've finally had a little bit of rain. Only half an inch, but it's enough to lift spirits a little bit and give us hope of some relief from the heat and dust and filth of the drought.
Firstly thanks to everyone who has been in touch both before and since our newsletter went out, and sorry if we haven't written back yet - we'll get there! We've had some questions about our deciduous trees, especially in the context of bushfire protection, and we've learned a bit about which species might be able to handle a hotter future, with more intense droughts, so here's a few thoughts on the subject.
Direct seeded young oaks have coped much better than seedlings - even when the seedlings have been watered post planting and the acorns have not. Pink corflute guards (see picture) help protect from desiccating winds, late season frosts, and perhaps most importantly, grasshoppers. Roy has used squares of scrap carpet to keep down the grass competition, which seems to be more effective than cardboard and mulch.
Some of our well established sawtooth (Quercus acutissima), scarlet (Q. coccinea), and burr (Q. macrocarpa) oaks have suffered, and in some cases died from the dry, while the english (Q. robur), portuguese (Q. lusitanica), and turkey (Q. cerris) oaks march on. Many of our older cork oaks (Q. suber) have shed their leaves, but I imagine they will recover okay given their mediterranean origins. Aspect, soil type, slope, drainage, and density of plantings all complicate the picture of course...
Some of our hybrid poplars are looking a bit worse for wear, and of course they started dropping their leaves very early, but generally the poplars are doing fine, especially the yunnan (Populus yunnanensis), lombardy (P. nigra) and silver (P. alba). Likewise the willows, and they've all been a tremendous source of fodder in these dry times.
Unfortunately our young desert ash (Fraxinus angustifolia) have been decimated by the grasshoppers, although the odd one is left alone. We will have to collect seed from the survivors - perhaps they are creating a compound the grasshoppers don't like.
We've also done quite a bit of paddock-scale direct seeding and planting of native trees and shrubs over the past two winters, with the direct seeded wattles doing particularly well. Young snowgums (Eucalyptus pauciflora) planted into dozer rip-lines continue to grow as if they were irrigated, and we've finally had some success with our saltbush trials (Atriplex nummularia and Rhagodia spinescens) on heavy black clay soils. Roy's young red box (E. polyanthemos) plantation is also thriving despite (or perhaps because of) being on top of a hill.
The ongoing drought means we are down to about 25% of our long term average merino flock, and the maremmas seem to be helping with the kangaroo problem, so we are hopeful of a major tree and shrub regeneration event if we ever get some soil moisture again. A smaller flock of sheep will allow for longer recovery periods for our paddocks, and many of our decidous trees that sucker should get the chance to do so without the sheep cleaning everything up as soon as it sprouts.
More on the sheep and maremmas in a future newsletter...