To achieve the density of plants that we are looking for we need to plant a lot of trees. These trees will help with climate control (shade, wind and water) as well as improving the structure and quality of the soil. Given our soil type and climate it makes sense to begin these plantings with locally native species so as to provide micro-climate zones for planting more fragile species later. To purchase the quantity of seedlings that we require would be prohibitively expensive and while collecting local seed is possible, and even desirable, it is time consuming and that time can, at this point, be better spent elsewhere.
Luckily, in South Australia there is a charity program which is perfect for our needs: Trees for Life. This program is in existence to drive re-vegetation and it’s main service is the provision of inexpensive seedlings, either grown by volunteers or through the materials to grow your own. We chose to grow our own. For a nominal fee (plus membership, also quite affordable) you are provided with everything you need to grow up to 1000 seedlings (except the time and water), including seed. They will however only provide seed from regionally native species (in our case the Far North Zone which covers the majority of the state – all the areas considered ‘Outback’ . That’s perfect for us though of course, so we signed up and ordered our first set of 20 boxes.
With the help of our first WWOOFers, we got all the seeds in and managed to germinate around 500 seedlings – not the 1000 that is possible, but some of our losses were due to inexperience and others due to our conditions. We were very happy with the results. The seeds are sown between November and January and then must be raised until at least May when they should be planted out as quickly as possible to allow them to get well established before the hot weather sets in.
Assisted by a number of subsequent sets of WWOOFers over the middle months of 2013 we planted around 250 of our seedlings, attempting a couple of windbreaks, some structural lines of saltbush and trees along driveways and dense covering of some of the new hills created by the earthworks that we had done in April. Unfortunately one of the big difficulties once a seedling is planted in this type of environment is keeping it alive. One of the most important aspects of this is the provision of water; most of these species have long tap roots, designed to reach to our relatively shallow underground water table (between 8-12m below surface level), however they need to grow big enough to get to it before they will prosper so in the meantime they need some help or some luck. We don’t want to be left in the position of relying on luck when we are contending with temperatures of over 50C so water is vital. It is also hard, time consuming work to run the dripper lines that will provide that not to mention quite expensive when we are talking about the quantity of drippers and pipe required for the number of trees we had planted. Unfortunately we only managed to get one area (the new hill, which had become known as the ‘Front Hill’) laid with drippers and this took its toll on our survival rates.
Then came the first hot north winds in late September and we knew we were in trouble – we lost about a quarter of our plantings that first day – as the wind sucked the moisture out of the leaves of the seedlings, leaving them crisped and without hope of redemption. In total, by the end of summer this year we had lost over 95% of the seedlings that we had planted! The only survivors were in the zone which we had managed to irrigate. What survivors they are too! the photo to the left is of a Arid lands mallee with a more delicate structure than some of the heavier mallees – Eucalyptus Gracialis – this seedling can be seen just after planting in the middle picture: the lower of the two seedlings on the far right of the image.
We have high hopes for those that survived their first harsh summer and have learned a lot that we are taking on board with this years plantings, if we can get the survival rate up, this project will come into fruition much quicker… but any tree successfully added to the landscape here is a win and something to be cherished, I can’t wait to see them grow into a luscious tangle of green over the coming years.