Climate change is no longer an abstract concept in our reforestation work as we see increasingly hot and dry stretches from the Southwest to Northern Great Plains. We take seedlings from a highly controlled and often ideal nursery climate, outplant them into a harsh environment and hope for the best. Many do well since the seed is sourced from the area and many native plants are resilient in tough conditions. However, trees are vulnerable when they are so small so we are investigating ways we can give them an extra boost to get through that first one or two years.
At Trees, Water & People, we are testing a variety of techniques, based on research, to improve survival, increase root development and vegetative growth. Some of the most basic techniques have been used by Indigenous Peoples for millennia including planting in shallow divots to collect water and the use of various types of mulch to improve water retention.
This spring we began an experiment using a soil inoculant product called “Tree Saver'' which has been shown to improve tree survival. Tree Saver has mycorrhizal fungi, beneficial bacteria and hydrogel polymer. The polymer absorbs up to 700x its weight in water (a cup and a half dry can hydrate to nearly 5 gallons!) which is slowly released to the roots over time ensuring constant moisture in the root zone during seedling establishment. We mix hydrated tree saver with our backfill dirt as we plant the trees. Hydrogels will continue to hydrate when it rains and over a number of years will break down and disappear once the tree is fully established.
TWP installed two ½ acre treatment (Tree Saver) and two control (no Tree Saver) plots this Spring with our partners at Red Cloud Renewable in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Staff will monitor the plots regularly over the next number of months to understand how effective the tree saver product is in boosting survival and growth. If we see significant improvement over the control plots we will scale up our use of this product in addition to the other low-tech treatments we are already utilizing.
We are deeply grateful for your ongoing support that makes this vital work possible!
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