Forests Ontario

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Tree the North!

Posted: June 13, 2017

Image 1 – Significant growth on Jack Pine planted in 2016

This spring, I had the privilege of travelling to Ontario’s north, and we aren’t talking just a quick drive a couple of hours long, but approximately 1,800 km north of Toronto.  The journey began at Billy Bishop Airport, where I flew to Thunder Bay and then made the 3 hour trek to Dryden. After working in forestry for over four years in southern Ontario, I felt it was time to gain insight into tree planting in northern Ontario. By travelling this far, I hoped to discover new methods and approaches to tree planting.

Once in Dryden, I met with our northern Field Advisor and two of our planting partners to tour some past and current planting sites under Forest Ontario’s 50 Million Tree Program.  This program expanded to Northern Ontario in 2014 and has contributed greatly to the goal of planting 50 million trees by 2025.

Having been born and raised in a large city despite my many trips and time spent “up north,” this was the furthest I had ever gone and I was uncertain what to expect. As it turns out, most of the planting methods are identical. The only major difference is the species of trees that were planted. In southern Ontario, most of the species planted include a wide range of coniferous trees and deciduous trees. In the northern ranges of Ontario, most of the species planted are predominately conifers. The species include but are not limited to black spruce, white spruce, Norway spruce, jack pine, red pine and white pine to name a few.

Image 2 – First year growth visible through the field

Image 1 shows the first year growth of a jack pine on one of the 2016 planting sites in Dryden. I was quite impressed to see how well the trees were doing with what had been an interesting winter in terms of weather.

Some of the sites we saw had quite beautiful views; the topography can change drastically from travelling just a short distance.

From image 2 you can see the jack pine and red pine sticking up from the grasses, one full season after planting. In the background are some fully grown black and white spruce.

Another key element to mention is that our northern partners predominantly plant container grown stock as this is the only stock type available to them that is seed zone appropriate. The main reason is to improve efficiencies in order to fulfill the significant orders for the forest industry.

Nurseries supplying trees to industry must grow a large amount of trees. The most efficient way to do this is through container stock as opposed to bareroot stock which we typically plant in southern Ontario. The main difference between the two types is that bareroot stock is grown in beds outdoors, and container stock is grown in jiffy pots or plugs. You can see an example of bareroot red pine in image 3.

Image 4 – 2 year old container stock, Red Pine

Image 3 – Bareroot Red Pine at Stock Viewing Day

Image 4 is an example of a two year old red pine container grown tree. On more challenging sites with heavier competing vegetation or poor soil quality, having a slightly older tree and larger root system allows the tree to have a higher rate of survival and chance of successful establishment after initial planting. Planting partners in northern Ontario are working with local nurseries to grow this larger stock for the afforestation program.

It was a very rewarding experience to get to be out in the north for the week. I was able to expand my knowledge and learn from our partners about their methods and practices in forestry and afforestation. There are many opportunities to see different types of tree species, ground cover, topography and beautiful lakes that you may not get exposure to otherwise. I would highly recommend visiting the area if you ever want a taste for the north!


Written and photographed by Stephanie Burns, Forest Operations Coordinator at Forests Ontario.