Winter To-Do-List

Holiday greenery raw materials
Holiday greenery raw materials from family forest. Photo: Jim Freed/WSU Extension

Thinking about a winter to-do list for family forest landowners has a special meaning now that I will be retiring on December 31. In the past I just had to think of projects for all of you to do—now I will get to do them myself on my land in eastern Oregon. So along with the honey-do list that has accumulated, I can get a start on these NTFP (non-timber forest products) and forest health projects.

First on any forest owner’s list should be a survey of the forest health. Winter is a great time to do this because the deciduous leaves are down and you can see the broken tops and dead limbs. If broken tops, dead trees and dead limbs do not present any hazard to you and your family then you may choose to leave them to support wildlife needs. If they need to come out they will make great firewood, mushroom logs and wildlife piles.

If you are thinning a stand, you can use any trees are not infected with insects and disease (and not needed for firewood) to create your future supply of mushrooms. Winter is a great time to cut the four-foot sections of timber that you need for this. There is no chance of being infected by natural fungi so you can be sure that what you get is what you want. The best woods to use are deciduous trees and the non-pine conifers. Inoculating the wood with the desired fungi is a great project that can be done in a wood shed, garage or barn. You will have them all ready for the growing season next spring.

Don’t Forget Shrubs

The next project should be pruning any shrubs that you are using for nuts and berries. Pruning in the winter removes old and sick stems. This will direct all the energy stored in the roots to producing new tops and expanding the limbs you have saved, increasing the size and quality of the fruit and nuts.

In some cases if the shrubs and plants have been damaged by fire or drought you may want to do a very severe pruning. By removing all the injured and old stems you will encourage the plant to put up new stems. In many cases you will not have a crop of fruit or nuts in 2016 but will have a great crop in 2017.

Time to Transplant

Winter is also a great time to ready trees and shrubs that you may want to transplant.

First you will want to make sure that you can identify the plants you want to move. Often alder and cascara trees are mistaken for dogwood in their winter conditions. Make a positive identification and mark the plant with flagging or metal tree tags. Then remove any injured or unwanted limbs. You can remove up to 50 percent of the living crown and the plant will still be in good health. In fact, this kind of pruning will insure that the top of the plant is in balance with the roots. This will greatly increase its survival potential. If you can root prune them before the soil freezes that would be great. If not you can do that in the spring of 2016.

Transplanting young plants from your own land helps insure that they are adapted to your site. If you do not have suitable plants on your land, an option is to contact the local US Forest Service or Washington Department of Natural Resources offices and inquire about permits for personal use harvesting of native plants.

Christmas Tree Time

Since Christmas is just around the corner you should survey you forest to look for Christmas trees and Christmas greenery for this year and future needs. Often an overstocked stand of conifers will produce really great Christmas trees from the tops of the tree. These are natural, fresh, organic, wild and sustainable Christmas trees—good for family use and for direct local sales. These same tree stands may have boughs that can be used for swags, garland and center pieces. Western red cedar, Douglas fir, western white pine, silver fir, grand fir and noble fir are all used commercially. Ponderosa pine, Engelmann spruce, juniper and lodgepole pine are often used by families.

If you have an area of your forest where there is a nice but overcrowded stand of 3-6 foot tall trees, you can start the process of making them into a Christmas tree stand or a greenery orchard. Removing bottom limbs will create a handle for the Christmas tree and get the lower limbs out of the brush. Remove broken limbs and multiple tops. When harvesting, leave one whorl of branches about 2 feet up to be trained for the next crop. Trees used for boughs should be spaced about ten feet apart.

The nice thing about doing Christmas trees and holiday greenery with native plants is if you get tired of doing it you can just let the trees grow to become timber trees.

You can use this early winter time to provide protection for new plantings. Installing tree guards before the snow accumulates will protect your young trees from rodents (rabbits and mice) who love to use the snow as cover for their feeding or to reach up higher.

Lastly just make some new trails that you can access by foot, snowshoe or mechanized vehicles. Fall and winter is a great time to enjoy your forest. We often take a picnic lunch to the river on our land and have a thanksgiving lunch with friends. There is something special about a being around a camp fire with family and friends in a forest covered with snow.

Have a great time in your own family forest winter wonderland.

By Jim Freed, WSU Extension Forest Products Specialist, freedj@wsu.edu