Land Talk With Kevin – Timber Stand Improvement

By Kevin Daugherty

In a perfect world, a landowner wanting to remove undesirable or overcrowded trees from a timber stand could easily find a market for those trees and be compensated for them. To say that our local timber market isn’t a perfect world would be somewhat of an understatement. To generate
buyer interest in a flooded market, such as we’re experiencing in central Louisiana and throughout much of the south, a timber sale must have an appreciable volume of good quality trees, with relatively easy access, and within reasonable proximity to a mill that takes those trees. So, if that doesn’t describe your land or timber, are you stuck with what you have? What if you want to remove low-value trees to create better wildlife habitat or manipulate species composition to favor more valuable trees and you can’t find an interested buyer for what you want removed? There’s
another way to reap the benefits of eliminating those trees without logging.

Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) is a management activity that takes a proactive approach in managing a stand of trees to improve its species composition, quality, health, and growth. TSI ideally would be done through a commercial thinning operation but, with the market for hardwood
pulpwood dwindling, that may not always be possible. The other way is through deadening (a politically correct term for killing) the trees you want removed. The following are a couple of examples that I recommend using this tactic.

Suppose you have a sapling thicket that contains oak and sweetgum. You may want to propagate the oak for wildlife and possibly future commercial timber value by deadening the sweetgum. In this situation, mix a solution of 20% Triclopyr (Garlon and Remedy are common trade names) and 80%
diesel in a pump-up or backpack sprayer and do what’s called a “basal spray”. Spray the bottom portion of the trunk, from the ground up about 16”, to saturation. I recommend using a spray indicator dye to avoid skips or treating the same tree twice. Within a couple of days after application, the bark will start to blister and the leaves will begin to turn brown. If you must cut the tree down, don’t do so for several months, as it may sprout back if cut too soon. Basal spraying can be done at any time during the year. I use this method on trees up to about 10” in diameter.

The other common method of TSI is called “hack-and-squirt” and is usually done on larger trees. Start with sharp tool such as a machete, brush hook, or hatchet and cut small hacks in the trunk of
the target tree. How you make these cuts is important. They should be at about chest height and penetrate the cambium layer below the bark. The cut should be at a downward angle to form a “cup” to hold the herbicide. With the blade still in the cut, twist downward to open the cut and spray
one trigger pull of herbicide from a common spray bottle into it. The number of cuts on each tree will vary according to its size. My herbicide of choice is Arsenal AC (Imazapyr), which calls for one cut for every 3 to 4 inches of tree diameter. So, for example, a 4-inch diameter tree would
only need one cut. For larger trees requiring multiple cuts, place them evenly around the trunk. If the tree has multiple trunks, be sure to treat each one. The mixing rate for Arsenal AC is one part herbicide to nine parts
water. Hack-and-squirt can be done any time during the year except early spring. During that time, heavy sap flow can actually wash the herbicide out of the cut. Here in the south, that takes place in March and April. Keep in mind that this herbicide is soil active and can kill or injure non-target plants if spilled or washed off equipment near them.

If you have a hardwood tree that needs to be removed immediately, you can cut the tree down and paint the top of the stump with herbicide. You have to treat the stump immediately because it will only absorb the herbicide for a very short time. If the stump isn’t treated, you’ll likely have continuous re-sprouting. Pine trees don’t re-sprout so there’s no need for herbicide.

Timber stand improvement makes your woods healthier, improves wildlife habitat quality, and can increase the commercial value of your timber stands. Some landowners enjoy taking on TSI projects on their own while others acquire the service of forestry companies that use crews to make quick work of the job. If you’re considering doing the work yourself and need guidance, you can hire a forester to get you started and assist with tree selection and technique. Always read and follow herbicide label instructions.

If your woods present a situation where a commercial timber harvest is not an option, you have other options for improvement. Take an active part in what’s growing there. Don’t assume you’re stuck with what you have.

Kevin Daugherty is a forestry and wildlife consultant, real estate agent, and the managing member of ForestLand Associates, LLC. He’s a member of the Association of Consulting Foresters, Louisiana Forestry Association, Society of American Foresters, and is a Land Certification Inspector for the Quality Deer Management Association. He and his wife live in rural Winn Parish. For questions about this article Kevin can be reached at (318) 312-1240 or 

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