Treeplanting 101: How To Work Through The Schnarb

Have you hit a rough patch? It is bound to happen, as tree planting cannot all be cream. Learn about the best ways to manage gnarly brush and still keep your head in the game. You can use your spacing tolerances to make your work day easier.

On any given block, you are going to find a mix of good and bad ground. Hopefully, your foreman will mix the two so everyone gets treated fairly. Many treeplanters will work harder when the ground is good, and relax when the ground gets tough. They do this because they prefer to save their energy for the good terrain. However, does this practice make sense? If you do not give 100% in the rough sections, you will not finish and get to the good ground as quickly! Knowing this, what are the best ways to get through the tough stuff faster?

Watch your spacing

Understanding the spacing and density regulations on every contract is  critical. In many places, you’ll be given a couple different numbers to work with which. These are related to the distance that you’ll use to space your trees from each other. These “inter-tree distances” are directly related to the final density numbers that the foresters want to see on each block.

There is a pretty direct correlation between average inter-tree spacing and final density. In fact, let’s list all the block densities and corresponding inter-tree densities here since they are hard to find on the internet:

  • 2400 trees/hectare = 2.2m average distance between trees
  • 2200 trees/hectare = 2.3m average distance between trees
  • 2000 trees/hectare = 2.4m average distance between trees
  • 1800 trees/hectare = 2.5m average distance between trees
  • 1600 trees/hectare = 2.7m average distance between trees
  • 1400 trees/hectare = 2.9m average distance between trees
  • 1200 trees/hectare = 3.1m average distance between trees
  • 1000 trees/hectare = 3.4m average distance between trees
  • 0800 trees/hectare = 3.8m average distance between trees
  • 0600 trees/hectare = 4.4m average distance between trees

Making sense of the numbers

The average inter-tree spacing numbers from the chart above are exactly that: averages. You are allowed to plant trees closer together or further apart. In fact, if you planted every tree at the perfect distance from every other tree, you probably didn’t do a good job. With “average” spacing, the goal is to let the planter have a bit of variety. This is so that they can put trees  into the best planting microsites. Why fight through dense grass if there’s an open patch of dirt just a foot away?

There is usually a second number on each contract, which is the “minimum” spacing distance. Unlike the above number,  it is not an “approximate goal.” It is a hard and fast number. You simply aren’t allowed to plant trees closer together than your minimum spacing distance. If you do, they are counted as quality faults. Although the reason varies from place to place, the rationale is this. In som areas, the official silviculture stocking surveys only count trees as being “good crop trees” if they are that minimum distance away from other trees. Trees that are too close together compete for nutrients, and each tree will grow less quickly than it would have if it had been given more separation from competing trees. Some common minimum distances are 1.0m, 1.5m, and 2.0m.

So how does all this math help you? Well, go back to the fact that your average distance between trees is not an exact number. If you end up putting two trees close together in an easier spot is, put some extra distance between your next two trees. It’ll all balance out in the end. If you have to jump over a rock or log or slash so that two of your trees are far apart, plant a close one next to balance things out. You are all good, as long as you never plant closer than your minimum spacing.

Expanding your dimensions 

Inter-tree distances also need to be counted in two dimensions, not just in a straight line. When many planters start out, they just think about measuring the distance from the tree just planted to the next one on their line. However, you also need to think about left and right. 

Let’s say that you are following a line of trees on your left and the target spacing is 2.5m between trees. When you plant your next tree, it should be approximately 2.5m from the tree that you just finished planting.  It should also be about 2.5m away from the nearest tree on the line to your left. Now things are getting to be more confusing!

This seems like a lot of work, right? Well, yes. When tree planting, you have to pay attention to what’s going on around you. However, there is an advantage here. Your “average” spacing between trees can be counted in every direction.

Let’s say that you’re looking ahead when planting your current line, and see there’s a nice patch of dirt only 2.0m in front of you. The target spacing is 2.5m. The smart thing would be to plant a tree in that close patch of dirt, and then for your next tree, plant it at 3.0m to roughly balance things out. But the bonus is that you could also just plant “out” a bit to the right, further away from the line that you’re following. If your tree is about 3.0m to the right of the line that you’re following, that’s a distance slightly over the target average. So, that distance can be used to balance out the “close” distance to your previous tree behind you.

Putting it all together

Now how does this all help you when it comes to a rough patch? Simple. Take advantage of your averages. If you’ve got a section of tough ground with many bushes, try to plant your trees slightly further apart than normal. Let’s say that you decide to plant them all at 3.0m apart, instead of 2.5m. Maybe that rough patch will only take 50 trees instead of the 60 that you would have had to plant if the spacing were almost exactly at the target average. However, then you have to remember that your density is going to be low in that area. You need to balance it out.

In the next patch of nice ground, plant your trees closer together. Maybe you’ll plant an equivalent sized patch of nice ground at 2.0m average instead of 2.5m, to balance out the rough patch. So maybe that nice patch will take 70 trees instead of 60. There you go, everything is balanced. You’ve planted ten trees more trees in easy ground, and ten less in tough ground.

A caveat

You’ll have to be careful because you can only take advantage of this system to a minor extent. If you start planting below your minimums, you’ll start getting penalized for quality problems. So you can only “tighten up” your spacing a small amount. Likewise, if you start going too wide, your density will be too low, and you’ll get in trouble. Then, you'll have to go back and add extra trees. You do not normally want to go too wide because if you are planting fewer trees, you are making less money.

In the end, it all has to balance out. Ask what the spacing rules are on each contract, and pay attention to your spacing to take advantage of what you are allowed to get away with. Then, you’ll be able to work smarter instead of harder. Once you figure that out, those rough patches will not be so frustrating.

HighBaller TreePlanter
HighBaller TreePlanter


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