Tree planting: Chestnuts and Orchards

Virginia Forestry and Wildlife Group has had a busy winter with several planting projects.  Though we have had to dodge snowstorms and lots of really cold weather, we have trees and shrubs in the ground becoming acclimated to their new environments.

Here is a glimpse of what we have been working on…….

At VFWG, we are dedicated to restoring the American chestnut to our eastern forests, and we are happy that our clients are too. For more information about American chestnuts and the blight that has decimated them check out the American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation website at or the Link from our website.

We have established two experimental chestnut plantings this winter in Virginia, one on either side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The seedlings are from either hybrids comprising 15/16ths American chestnut genes or 100% American chestnut from blight resistant parents.  While there is no guarantee that these seedlings have inherited the genes needed to resist the blight, we are optimistic and crossing our fingers.  It will likely be several years before we can determine whether our planted seedlings will become resistant, mature trees.  We have done everything we can for them by planting on good sites and providing protection from browsing wildlife (deer, rabbits and voles can all damage new seedlings).

Chestnut seedlings

Planting Wildlife Orchards

An often overlooked aspect of wildlife habitat management are the various species of fruiting trees that produce what we call soft mast.  Soft mast is generally considered the fleshy fruits such as apples, persimmons, grapes, etc.  When wildlife folks say hard mast, we generally refer to the nuts (acorns, chestnuts, hickory nuts, etc.).   The dormant season is a great time to plant trees and shrubs because they are not actively growing and the shock of transplant is less.  Nurseries usually sell trees as either bare root, container or ball and burlap (B &B). Containerized trees and shrubs can be planted at any time, but bare root seedlings won’t be available until they are dormant.

We like to start planting as soon as the trees loose their leaves and go into dormancy.  In our part of Virginia this usually occurs by the middle of November.  Early winter is a great time to plant.  The weather is (usually) pleasant, the ground is not yet frozen and it gives the trees a chance to settle into their new homes and establish some roots over the winter months.  This is important when the hot, dry summer arrives and gives those early winter planted seedlings a better chance at survival than those planted in the spring.  The last few summers in Virginia have been hot and dry, and the new seedlings will parish if not watered and nurtured through their first summer.

That is not saying you won’t run into difficulty planting in early winter as we found out last December (2010).  Abnormally early cold weather and precipitation caused a few headaches as we tried to get bare root trees in the ground and out of the freezing elements.  With the help of an auger we were able to get everything into the ground!

One of these orchards in the Shenandoah Valley was planted with a wide variety of soft mast producing trees and shrubs.  We carefully chose varieties that would grow in the Valley climate and would also be disease resistant.  After carefully choosing a site with adequate soils, sunlight and drainage, we planted apples, crabapples (including a native variety), chickasaw plums, mulberries, pears, apples, elderberries and persimmons.  This diversity will provide fruit to wildlife throughout the summer and into late fall with different fruits being available at different times.

We will be actively planting trees during warmer days until the buds begin breaking in March, and look forward to seeing our seedlings come alive with a burst of green this coming spring.

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