The seemingly small act of planting a tree can help heal our planet and the people living on it. Collectively we have the power to reforest the Earth.
A wonderful aspect of tree planting is that it enables you to do something positive with lasting value using your own two hands. If you can safely operate a shovel and a watering can, you can plant a tree.
“The great French Marshall Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow-growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, ‘In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!’”John F. Kennedy
This post is a continuation of a tree planting story that began on a cold winter evening last January in the community room of the Rabobank down the street from our house.
Six months later, I am caring for 18 Monterey pine seedlings that we planted in our yard and 78 Monterey pine sprouts that I grew from seeds for a tree-planting project in our public forest.
If you are interested in catching up from the beginning of the story, read the posts Mother Nature Needs Our Help – Let’s Plant Trees and Arbor Day 2019 – Let’s Plant Trees. Or just pick up the thread here.
Caring for Tree Seedlings
My original plan had been to plant 40 Monterey pine tree seedlings in our yard as part of a larger effort to restore our small patch of land.
Fortunately, I came to my senses before buying 40 seedlings.
I was already watching over about twenty pots that I had planted with native plant seeds and a dozen or so plant seedlings growing in our yard. It occurred to me that perhaps trying to keep track of 40 tiny tree seedlings would be a bit daunting.
I decided to buy 20 seedlings and called Rick Hawley to arrange to pick them up at Greenspace’s office.
On a sunny day at the end of January, my spouse and I carefully scouted locations in our yard and planted the 12” tall Monterey pine tree seedlings.
Almost immediately, I realized I would need some kind of markers or I would not be able to find the seedlings as the wild grasses surrounding them continued growing up to 4-6 feet tall.
Walking around the yard installing the markers we discovered that one seedling had had an accident and died and one seedling was never found. That left us with 18.
The first two months or so we continued to have rain so the seedlings did not require supplemental watering. I weed-whacked paths leading to the areas where the seedlings were growing so I could check on them periodically.
Who Needs Water Next?
I knew the rain would stop at some point and that the seedlings would need to be watered during the dry season to help them become established in their new homes.
Our yard does not have irrigation so that meant watering by hand with my 2-gallon watering can.
We had kept a few plants and Rosie our venerable climbing rose bush alive during the drought with the watering can and buckets so this seemed reasonable to me. Besides, I would be able to keep a close eye on what was going on with the seedlings.
Boy was I naive.
When it was only native plants in the yard, pots on the deck, and some house plants needing watering, I could easily keep an informal watering rotation schedule in my head. But, after the first month of watering the 18 tree seedlings, I could not keep track of who needed to be watered next.
Using a spreadsheet program I created a simple schedule and posted it on our refrigerator. At the end of each watering day, I check off what I have watered. Sometimes I do not have time to water on a specific day so I mark the day that I did water. I do not water the plants every week, but I do water the Monterey pine tree seedlings once a week.
Hiking around the yard carrying 16 pounds of water sloshing around in a watering can is good exercise. I enjoyed visiting the tree seedlings to see how they were doing and felt happy that they looked well.
This constant traipsing through the yard also enabled me to spot wildflowers here and there and even an occasional California poppy before a mule deer cruising through the yard spotted it and ate it.
Unfortunately, all that watering was more time consuming than I had anticipated. As much as I love being outside in the yard, like most people, I have many other commitments so I needed a way to make watering take less time.
Using hoses seemed like an obvious and simple solution so my spouse and I headed to the local hardware store where we purchased two hoses and two brass nozzles. We attached the hoses to spigots on the exterior of our house.
About half the seedlings cannot be reached by either hose. In this case, I drag a hose as far as I can and then fill up the watering can from that location reducing the distance I need to walk back and forth refilling the can.
Next, we will look in on the progress of the Monterey pine tree sprouts that germinated from the seeds I planted for the forest tree-planting project.
Growing Trees from Seeds
When my spouse and I arrived at the Greenspace Earth Day festival on April 21, I was excited to see Rick Hawley at his Monterey pine seed booth. He handed me a rack of 98 tubes mostly filled with soil and a plastic bag containing 100 seeds.
When we arrived home with our precious cargo, we discussed possible locations for placing the rack where it would get sun and a bit of shade. The deck outside our kitchen and dining room seemed an ideal location so we put two small slatted wooden tables together and set the rack on it.
Mindful of what Rick had said about birds grabbing the seed casing attached to the top of sprouts and then “accidentally” ripping the sprout out, I asked my handy spouse to make a cover for the seedling rack. Several days later, I placed a removable chicken wire box over the rack.
I watered the seed tubes weekly and waited.
It Takes Many Seeds to Grow a Tree
On May 13th I was thrilled to spot two sprouts. The seed casings were still attached so I was glad for the protective cover. By mid-June, 16 tree sprouts were visible growing above the rims of the tubes.
To me, this seemed low considering that I had planted 98 seeds.
I felt like a loser like I had done something wrong but I had no idea what. Would the seeds have done better in a different location or with more or less water?
Hmm, perhaps my feeling of failure was a holdover from the decades I had spent working in corporate America where performance metrics are used to determine your value and measure you against other employees.
When I thought about it some more, I realized that a Monterey pine tree produces pine cones with thousands of seeds in the hope that at least one will make it to maturity.
I contacted Rick and asked him if I could have more seeds. Of course, he said yes.
On June 18, I carefully planted 82 seeds in the empty tubes. By July 11, there were a total of 49 sprouts growing in the rack. A couple of days later, I planted the remaining seeds in the empty tubes.
As of yesterday, I am tending 78 Monterey pine tree seedlings of various ages.
Every morning, I walk out onto the deck greeting the seedlings and asking them how they are doing. Yes, I am one of those people who talks to plants. I also converse with the birds, deer, and other animals who visit our yard.
Come November, I am looking forward to meeting and talking with the other tree growers and planting our trees.
Imagine if you, I, and everyone else who is old enough to use a shovel planted just one tree. We would have billions of additional trees generating oxygen, being beautiful, sequestering carbon dioxide, giving shade, and helping heal our planet—and us.
“When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and hope.”Wangari Maathai
Featured Image at Top: This is my rack of Monterey pine sprouts on August 4, 2019.
- Adopt a Native Plant
- Arbor Day 2019 – Let’s Plant Trees
- A Sand County Almanac – Book Review
- Growing Native Plants from Seeds is Fun
- Mother Nature Needs Our Help – Let’s Plant Trees
- Native Plants Add Beauty and Habit to Your Yard
- Native Plants are Good for the Environment
- The Hidden Life of Trees – Book Review
- The Landscaping Ideas of Jays – Book Review
- The Legacy of Luna – Book Review
- The Lorax – Book Review
- Your Community Parks, Open Spaces, and Gardens Need You
- Ethiopia Says It Planted Over 350 Million Trees in a Day, a Record – by Palko Karasz, The New York Times, 07/30/19
- Forestry and Climate Change – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- How trees could save the climate – press release, Crowther Lab of ETH Zürich, 04/07/19
- One-third of world’s new vegetation in China and India, satellite data shows – by Daisy Dunne, Carbon Brief, 02/12/19
- The Trillion Tree Solution – by Michael Brune, Sierra Club, 07/18/19