Protecting Shortleaf Pines

Shortleaf pines are tough and adaptable, but even they need some help. If you have shortleaf pines in your woods, you can make a big difference in their health and long-term survival. All it takes is some thoughtful forest management. These activities can help you protect your shortleaf pines—and your land’s overall health too:

Prescribed burns.From their built-in fire protection as seedlings to the thick bark they develop as they mature, shortleaf pines are suited to frequent fires throughout their lives. They’re not fire-dependent, but fire does give them an edge over faster-growing loblolly pines and hardwoods. So re-creating a natural cycle of frequent, low-intensity fires can ensure that your shortleaf pines regenerate, even in the face of competition from other tree species. Duplicating natural fire in this way isn’t easy, so make sure to consult a professional for guidance and assistance (and any necessary permits) before trying a burn on your own.

Credit: North Carolina Prescribed Fire Council

Thinning and harvesting. In a healthy shortleaf pine/oak savanna ecosystem, older, larger trees grow alongside younger ones in open, sunny stands. Frequent thinning and careful harvests can help you create and maintain those conditions—and clearcuts, seed-tree harvests and shelterwood harvests work particularly well for the shortleaf pine.

  • Clearcuts remove most or all of the woody vegetation in your woods, reducing shade and competition for shortleaf pines and enabling them to grow. It’s important to have older trees that produce consistently good seed crops nearby, and to avoid clearcutting in steep terrain, where it can cause soil erosion.
  • Seed-tree harvesting is like a small-scale clearcut, except that some seed-producing trees (if you have them) are left standing in the cleared area. These produce the seeds for the next generation of shortleaf pines.
  • Shelterwood harvesting selectively removes some big trees to keep stands open and allow light to reach seedlings and saplings, but it keeps others so that forest has a source of seed crops and new trees. The key is correct spacing: shortleaf pine seedlings will establish themselves if the overstory is kept sparse, around 45 to 60 square feet basal area per acre.

Controlling pests and competition. Shortleaf pines tolerate a lot, but they don’t tolerate shade or competition very well. Limiting how much vegetation grows in the understory using herbicide treatments and prescribed burns will help the pines grow and stay healthy, which will in turn help protect them from pests and disease.

Careful management isn’t just for existing stands of shortleaf pines. With some planning and proper management, you can establish new shortleaf pine stands in places where they once grew, or where they are suited to growing.

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