Adding Conifers

New growth on young Grand Fir

New growth on young Grand Fir. The orange flagging is to help this youngster stand out among surrounding vegetation in the summer.

I live just a few miles from the shore of the Salish Sea, on relatively flat land that was blanketed by a mostly coniferous forest up until the arrival of European settlers. It was a land of dense forests with gigantic trunks reaching skyward and a tangled understory of vine maples and shrubs. But that’s not what I see in the three acres of forest on our property.

Our land has been logged, and now we look out on a forest of deciduous trees — bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), and red alder (Alnus rubra). Conifers aren’t entirely missing; we have a few Douglas-firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and western redcedars (Thuja plicata) scattered about. They’re good-sized trees and we occasionally see bald eagles perched in their tops as they scan the surrounding fields for a meal.

Natalie and I decided that we’d like to increase both the number and diversity of conifers on our property. Back in the spring we purchased bare-root western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), grand fir (Abies grandis), and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) seedlings and planted them in what looked like appropriate openings in our woods.

Sitka Spruce

Sitka Spruce seedling planted in an area that has been cleared of a blackberry thicket.

This past summer was both warmer and drier than is typical for our area, but our newly planted conifers came through just fine with only a couple of waterings in mid-summer. I had to carry a two-gallon watering can to each tree, so it took some time and effort to give each tree its two-gallon drink and help assure survival through this critical first year.

Now that our rainy season has arrived again I made the rounds of all our new little trees to check on their health. They all look like they have good healthy buds for next year’s growth. A couple are a bit spindly-looking, but they didn’t look all that great when we planted them (a downside of buying inexpensive bare-root trees).

Sitka Spruce Seedling

New growth on young Sitka Spruce during the summer season. The soft green foliage has now matured to a rich blue-green.

Why would we bother to plant conifers?

From an aesthetic viewpoint we’ll be able to enjoy more green in our woods through the dark winter months.

For wildlife, the conifers provide dense cover and nesting sites for several species of birds. Once the trees begin producing cones then they’ll be a food source for squirrels (hopefully our little native, the Douglas squirrel). In 80-100 years or so they’ll provide more perches for eagles and hawks.

For other plants, the conifers will eventually add their fallen needles to the duff on our forest floor, contributing to a healthy soil ecosystem.

Planting trees is a long-term investment in habitat. We’re not likely to be around to see our new trees fully grown, but even a short 10 years from now they’ll begin to have a positive impact. The next couple of weeks should still have great weather for planting

© 2015, Mark Turner. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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