Soil prep for 2024 tree planting


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Planted some oaks in 2022 that mostly were killed by the drought in KS. It was really hard work digging into some very old pasture with established grasses. Not sure that the large amount of roots were helpful for the oaks either.

In another spot, I had plowed up an acre as a test to see how a food plot may fare. The drought was of course hard on that too and the deer quickly finished up those attempts. This winter I planted switch in that spot. Last weekend I planted 8 oaks along the north side of that plowed spot. It was like digging in butter. Hoping these oaks fare better.

So my question is, if I want to keep trying oaks or perhaps other trees in this spot, would actually plowing 3-4 strips wide for maybe a hundred yards this fall be an okay idea for planting trees into next spring? Any downside risks to that? Sure makes planting easier but not sure if it causes any issues.
Shouldn't hurt. An auger might be another option, since you have a tractor to plow with. They aren't hard to find used in the $300 range in my area. It would save on fuel for plowing.
Plowing introduces O2 into the soil and burns your OM reducing natural nutrient cycling for a food plot. Min-till and not till methods don't have this issues and significantly help retain soil moisture. In a high drought area, no-till is the best option.

The first thing I would do with an old pasture is to get rid of any fescue. I would probably mow, wait a week or two and spry and then no-till buckwheat in the spring. Buckwheat can be surface broadcast and cultipack. I'd spray again in the fall and plant Winter Rye and an annual clover. This should help get rid of any fescue. For the area where you plan to plant trees, I would use an auger as previously suggested. Keep in mind that if you have heavy clay soil (probably not) you want to use a hand rack on the sides of the hole to breakup any glazing and then use native soil to backfill. With clay soil, if you use other stuff to back fill that is more porous than clay, you create a pond when it rains and drown the tree.
Agreed completely with the first paragraph. Had to try it I guess but won't do more. Worst case I can gly the weeds in that area and broadcast rye this fall. I may also plan on just making that my oak planting and try to put a bunch in there.

I think my bigger issue vs fescue is smooth brome that has crept in from the county road bed over the years. Talked to pheasants forever and thinking I'll mow a 2 acre section in August, wait for brome to green up in the fall and spray gly 10 days after first hard freeze there. That may free up the native plants to compete better. Its a learning process for me.

The auger idea may be a good one as I could auger a few holes this fall, let them mellow out over winter and then plant into them come spring. May watch for a used one. Appreciate the thoughts here.
Not sure about Hays, but our soils are heavy clay here in Central Kansas and the sides of an augered hole can look like glass. Overwintering may cure that, but somehow adding texture to the sides is a must.

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The ACF did a study with American Chestnuts, and they found that there was no difference in root growth with augured holes vs shovel dug holes for bare root trees. I know you're planting oaks, but worth considering.

You're likely to be able to dig a deeper whole with an auger vs plowing/tilling, and oaks like deep tap roots.
This bottom field is a sandy loam soil. So when you dig the sides tend to want to fall in actually. If established, tree roots should love it. I may rent an auger for some post holes. If I do, thinking I'll just use it same day to punch in a bunch of holes for trees too. Going to beat the heck out of shoveling through grass roots.

Got .3" of rain yesterday there so the little guys I just planted at least got a drink. Here is to more rain for Kansas.
For the silt loam I plant in, the area is prepped the previous year with a couple rounds of glyphosate to kill off the vegetation.

Round one is for the fescue, round two is for the annuals that come up later.

Round 3 may be needed depending on a lot of environmental factors.
Not sure about Hays, but our soils are heavy clay here in Central Kansas and the sides of an augered hole can look like glass. Overwintering may cure that, but somehow adding texture to the sides is a must.

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The problem with that approach is the infiltration difference between the clay and the fill material. I planted a lot of rootmaker trees that are grown in media. If you auger a hole and plant the tree, medium intact, you get the advantage of the tree beginning to grow almost immediately and you don't have the years of sleep, creep, and then leap, but you will loose a lot of trees. Water infiltrates the media an drowns the roots. Conversely, during dry periods, water evaporates from the media much faster than the clay.

It took me a while to develop a process that works well. First, I auger a hole very close to the diameter of an RBII container. It is so close that I have to stand on the root ball to force it into the hole. I use a hand rake in the hole to scratch the sides of the hole to break up and glazing you get with an auger in clay. Most important, I auger the hole deep. I back fill it with quarry stone to near the right depth and then add an inch of native clay soil. I then put in the tree so that the top 1" of medium sticks out of the hole. I then mound up the clay remove from the hole over the medium.

Here is how it works. Mounding the clay soil over that top inch of media, helps keep ground water from going into the hole and it only gets the direct rain. During spring when we have more rain, the water infiltrates the media and soaks it, but drains into the quarry stone below so it does not drown the roots. The tight fit and near immediate growth of a tree grown in a root pruning container system, allows the lateral roots to penetrate the clay that retains water before our summer dry period comes around. This part is less important if you are providing supplemental water, but I don't do that with wildlife trees.