Eroded forest road due to poor planning
Non-Harvest Best Management Practices


Improving reforestation and regeneration

This web article explains how forest owners can encourage re-growth of the forest through natural and human-planted reforestation.


Improving the success of reforestation and regeneration

Forests can regenerate through a seed bank in the soilForests have a natural capacity to grow replacement trees as older ones die off or are harvested. The process of reforestation encourages healthy young trees to grow in previously forested areas. Whether the new trees come about naturally or are planted by humans, there are some important factors to consider. The natural productivity of a forest varies greatly, depending on soil, local climate, topography, and prior harvest history.

Before ordering hundreds of seedlings to plant or assuming that a woodlot is primed for reproduction, work on the following best management practices for reforestation:

Set goals for reforestation.
A forest planting should be based on long-term thinking. The trees planted in a field or forest today will grow slowly for decades. Set goals for a reforestation project like erosion control, establishing merchantable species, improving wildlife habitat, or restoring a native plant community.

Gather information about the site intended for reforestation.
Inspect the site on foot, noting whether it slopes to the north, south, or other direction. Read a soil survey to learn about the soil capacity. Learn what species of trees are already growing there and what trees can grow in similar areas. Take note of possibly competing vegetation, like grass and weeds. These plants can either stifle or stimulate the growth of new seedlings. Finally, look for evidence of deer overpopulation. If deer are a problem, special measures will need to be taken to protect seedlings from becoming deer browse.

Large trees can be seed sourcesIdentify seed sources and natural regeneration.
Larger trees in a woodlot provide the seeds for forest regeneration. Assess how many, how large, and what species of trees are providing seed to a forested area. Look for evidence of root sprouting and stump sprouting. If this natural regeneration meets the woodlot goals, less supplemental planting will be necessary. Consider a silvicultural treatment, like a seed tree cut or clear cut, to improve regeneration.

Remove undesirable competing vegetation.
Ferns and grasses tend to proliferate in some New York forests. This is the result of a variety of factors, including the selective browsing by deer, past harvest history, and soil conditions. Unfortunately, forests covered with grasses and ferns have a difficult time regenerating because very little sunlight reaches the soil where seeds lie. Consult with a forest botany specialist to make a determination if there is excess competing vegetation in your woodlot.

Protect regenerating forests from deer and other damaging wildlife.
Downed trees protect seedlings from deerWhite tail deer are overpopulated in many areas of Western and Central New York. They are browsing away too many seedlings and tree sprouts to allow forests to reproduce naturally. All reforestation efforts should take into account possible damage from deer. Leave tree tops in the woods to deter deer browsing. Use tree guards, fell cull trees, or fence in sections of forests where early regeneration is taking place.

Use a forest stewardship plan to guide reforestation decisions.
Because reforestation is a long-term effort, a written plan will help guide the process, even as the property is transferred from owner to owner. In the lifetime of a typical tree, more than five landowners will have legal possession. For that reason, a reforestation plan helps maintain a consistent process toward an important goal - healthy forests.

Obtain a forest inventory through professional forester.
Many woodlot owners are unsure of which trees are "keepers" and which trees should be removed. Professional foresters, whether part of a public agency or as part of a reputable consulting business, can assess forest conditions and provide reforestation and regeneration recommendations.

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Please cite source: Cornell Cooperative Extension, 2004
Written by James Ochterski, CCE - Schuyler County