PermaSculpture Planting Preparations

Spring is (very nearly) in the air – it’s time to start getting ready.  I’ve had my trees ordered for months now but still have work to do on making “tree mats,” accumulating wood chips and fixing/building more water tanks.

Initially, I had planned to scale planting back a bit after last year.  Obviously that didn’t happen.  So now I have around 1000 trees/bushes coming.  I’m still largely filling out the windbreaks at this point, but I have some really cool things coming that I’m excited to try – especially the chestnuts and pecans.  They’re rather experimental this far North, but I’m going to give it a shot.

Here is my “tree mat” production line. You can see around 500 stacked up here, so eventually the piles will double in size.

Cutting tree mats from recycled cardboard.
Cutting tree mats from recycled cardboard.

Nothing to it… accumulate large cardboard boxes, break them down and cut into large squares with a hole in the middle. Repeat. After planting and watering a tree, I’ll place one of these around it and hold down with wood chips.  They help hold moisture in the ground while suppressing competing weed growth.

These have worked great for me, helping achieve around a 98% success rate. I’ve read of some concerns that the cardboard would act as an “umbrella” shedding water and drying out the plant below. That may very well be the case for some people. Our water table is very high so I’m more concerned with holding moisture in and protecting the soil from the drying winds. Last year, where we experienced quite dry conditions, the soil was powder outside the mats while underneath them it was moist enough to hold structure if squeezed a bit. Just observe, try stuff out and see what works for you.

But where do you get your trees?  Okay, here’s a rundown…

Cold Stream Farm – this is my source for inexpensive, foundational trees.  Hybrid Poplar, Black Locust, Black Walnut and Washington Hawthorn.

MN DNR – this is where to start if you have large windbreaks to plant.  Last year I got several conifers, Butternut and Elderberry.  This year I just have American Hazelnut coming.

Oikos Tree Crops – I just found these guys this year and they have a stunning assortment of rare and unusual types.  I can spend hours on their website.  I ordered a number of different Chestnuts, Wild Pear, Apricot and Hardy Pecans.

Badgersett Research Corporation – Located in SW Minnesota, these guys have been doing work for years to produce blight-resistant American Chestnut and Hybrid Hazelnuts.  I ordered a dozen and a half of their Just Plain Chestnuts.  I wanted to get some chestnuts from Forest Agriculture Enterprises as well, but they were already sold out (I’m kicking myself).  Mark Shepard is doing some mind-boggling work down there in SW Wisconsin, look him up.

Miller Nurseries – great place for hardy fruiting plants.  I have a Meader Persimmon, Peach and some Apricots coming.

Stark Bro’s Nursery –  these guys are great as well.  Not as much cold-hardy stuff, but some things that you just can’t find anywhere else.  Mulberry and Paw Paw.

Jung Seeds and Plants – located next door in WI, they have a really nice selection of stuff.  I ordered several different kinds of Gooseberry, Curants, Blackberries and Grapes.

When I write it out like that it looks a bit daunting.  But it’s important to remember that I won’t actually be planting 1000 trees – I’ll be planting one tree a thousand times.  There is a difference.  One at a time, just keep going and focus on doing a good job in the moment.  This really is very similar to how I approach making a very labor-intensive sculpture.  It’s all a piece of a greater whole.