Tips for planting birch & maple seedlings

August 11, 2023
Image: Anne Kane

In July this year, on her land near Geraldine, Anne Kane planted 100 birch trees and 100 red maples in a closely spaced, horticultural-style row-crop.  

We’ve asked her for her tips and tricks to help others who might be interested in trialling tree syrup as a land use.

What made you interested in planting acers/birch?

I can’t remember with certainty how I heard of the Tree Syrup project in the first place, but I think it was mentioned on Radio NZ 2-3 years ago, which caught my interest. I’ve always loved maples - my father landscaped and planted our 1-acre garden when I was growing up, including many beautiful maples. Unfortunately, by the time I was set up to take part in the trial, there were already enough maple plots in the research project, so Matt Watson [project leader] asked if I’d be happy to plant birches instead.  

How long did it take?

I lost another year in a long and fruitless search for paper birch seedlings, eventually having to give up (so I thought) on taking part in the project. But a few months ago, I got an email from Matt Rennie [PhDstudent], saying that there were Betula papyrifera seedlings available from Appletons this season.

But, I still had my heart set on planting maples, so asked whether it would be any use to plant them as well. We settled on trying red maples, to see how they go as an alternative to sugar maples.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I got my plantings in.  

Any tips or lessons (good or bad!) you’d pass onto others who might be interested in doing the same?

1.     Order seedlings early. I’d recommend ordering seedlings as early as possible, just in case you have to wait an extra year. Appletons seems to be the best option for price and availability, but ordering 6 months ahead is no help if they do not have the seedlings growing already. Growing from seed could be another option. 

2.     Get your tree protectors on straight away. I planted the maples first, then the birches straight after. Then I spent another day planting shelter trees on a different part of the property, before putting all the tree protectors on. In the two days between planting and getting the protectors on, half a dozen or so of the maples had their tops nibbled off (by hares presumably). I used Emguards, which are eventually biodegradable and so far have prevented further hare attacks. 

3.     Soil improvers. We have a clay pan beneath our topsoil, so I worked some gypsum into the clay layer. I also mixed in a bit of blood and bone at the same time. We’ll see if it helps!

4.     Brush up on your maths before measuring your 1-metre spacing grid! I needed Pythagoras‘s theorem, and you really have to be accurate, as being a bit out at the start will magnify as you go along. Having a second person to hold the other end of the tape measure would have made it go faster.

How did you choose the site? 

I had to toss-up between a couple of different sites, each with its own pros and cons. In the end I went with a site that was flat, near the house (so I can keep a more frequent eye on the trees, and so that the weather station can still connect to the wireless). The other option was in one of the bottom paddocks, so possibly a better chill factor and more protection from the southerly. 

Are the trees behaving so far?

So far so good, but it’s early days! 

Image: Anne Kane


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