Preparing for fall tree planting

Consider corn as winter feeding option

Submitted by Alberta Agri-news

Whether spring or fall, preparation and planning are key components of the tree planting process.

“Even though most farmers and landowners plant their trees for shelterbelts or around their yards in the spring, fall tree planting is much more common for city landscape and home yard projects,” says Toso Bozic, bioenergy/agroforestry specialist, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. “That being said, there are very few differences between spring and fall planting.”

In the fall, there is more moisture in the soil due to summer and fall rain and higher humidity. “This gives the root system a better chance to get established so it can be ready to get growing earlier in spring. In early spring, the soil is often dry and there is little humidity in the air.”

Bozic says there are several steps to consider prior to planting trees in the fall.

“When it comes to picking a tree species, many rural owners are very familiar with shelterbelt tree species selection. However, they may be less familiar with tree or shrub species that are not designed for shelterbelts, and with species generally grown in urban areas. Tree species diversity is crucial for the health and well-being of your yard or shelterbelt.”

A variety of trees and shrubs species can be found in urban areas including ones that, in theory, should not be grown here at all due to Alberta’s harsh climate conditions. “However, they are doing just fine in our cities and towns, and provide great beauty and diversity alongside our native tree and shrubs species. A quick look around cities and towns may give you some ideas for what to plant – be creative and experiment!”

In the spring most people plant small trees, while in fall choosing larger trees and shrubs is a common practice, says Bozic. “At season end, there are many trees and shrubs on sale at local tree nurseries or various retail stores. They come in containers or basket and burlap.

“If you buy trees in the typical black container stock that comes in various sizes, always inspect them prior to buying. Check for any broken branches, weak branch crotches, signs of insect or disease, irregular shapes and, most importantly, for a bound root system. If you see the roots already coming out of the container, most likely the root system is bound which can create future problems. If you see the roots are excessively bound or the tree is damaged – simply don’t buy it.”

Balled and burlap trees are usually larger caliper (diameter) trees that are dug up, balled in a wire basket and wrapped in juta burlap. Bozic recommends doing an inspection of the overall health of the tree prior to buying it.

As for selecting a planting site, there are many things to pay attention to, such as soil, moisture, slope, exposure, and physical barriers like a house, fence, or power line. Bozic says that to avoid potential future problems that trees can cause to yard, home and buildings, make sure to see mature trees of that species before choosing the planting site.

“Planting trees in fall requires some planning and diligent work ahead of time. It’s hard work, but very rewarding in the long term. Always have fun.”

Corn as winter feed

With more corn varieties becoming available, cattle producers across Canada are increasingly looking at grazing whole plant corn as a viable winter feeding option.” Corn is a crop that grows two and a half to three times the biomass of small grain cereals on less land,” says Bart Lardner, Western Beef Development Centre, Saskatchewan. “Another attraction may be that this is a crop that actually exceeds the nutrient requirements of a beef cow in her first and second trimester of pregnancy. In some cases, during the cold winter months, there may not be a need to provide additional supplementation.”

There are several benefits to grazing corn, says Lardner, but cattle producers should be cautious of ruminal acidosis, or grain overload.

“Some of the issues with corn grazing are that cattle are very selective and will pick out the tastier part of the plant, the cob, which has a lot of starch. If cows are allowed to go out there and access just cob, there is going to be a rumen acidosis issue. That first killing should be at the half milk line so you get a balance of starch and fibre per acre with 50 per cent starch and 50 per cent fibre. The fibre comes from the leaves, the stock, the stover, and the tassel and the starch is coming from the cob itself.”

Recent work at the Western Beef Development Centre has looked at ways of reducing the risk for ruminal acidosis.

“We’ve have done some research looking at three vs. nine-day allocation of feed with or without a fibre source. The fibre source may be an older hay, lower quality hay, or maybe a straw bale to help mitigate the risk for rumen acidosis and buffer the rumen to prevent the pH from dropping and causing digestive upsets. Some of the research suggests adding a fibre source while cows are grazing whole plant corn and maybe limiting them to that three to four day allocation.”

The rumen takes time to adapt so Lardner suggests that, if going from pasture to grazing corn, to give cows about 7-10 days for the rumen to adjust to the difference in the ration by slowly introducing them to the new crop rather than giving them a shock or abrupt change in diet over a 24-hour period.

“The bottom line is that producers should do their homework, talk to lots of agriculture and agronomy experts, and/or other producers who use corn grazing before setting out. You should start small to make sure you get the most ‘bang for your buck. Corn is a high input cost crop but our research has shown that you are able to reduce cow costs per day grazing corn compared to tradition dry-lot systems.”

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