Low Density Plantings of Loblolly Pine

Advantages of planting fewer trees per acre

Low density plantings offer many benefits to landowners. In tracts with less than 350 trees per acre (tpa), forest health conditions are improved, wood quality and return on investment are greater, and fewer thinnings are required.

Photo: 200 trees planted per acre (age 13).

200 trees planted per acre
(age 13)

Photo: 300 trees planted per acre (age 13).

300 trees planted per acre
(age 13)

Photo: 300 trees planted per acre (age 23).

300 trees planted per acre
(age 23)

Photo: 600 trees planted per acre (age 23).

600 trees planted per acre
(age 23)

Forest Health

  • Low density stands are healthier, have less competition, are more vigorous and are less susceptible to bark beetles and other pests.
  • Low density plantings create larger diameter and stockier trees, characteristics which make the trees more resistant to ice damage.
  • Lower density stands retain better wildlife habitat longer.
  • Lower density stands are more aesthetically pleasing.
  • Lower density stands allow for the establishment of mixed (pine and hardwood) stands for landowners who want them.
  • Low density stands are less likely to be viewed as monocultures (all the trees are of one species).

Thinnings

  • Low density plantings will give landowners a longer time period to do thinnings before the live crown ratios decrease. Live crown ratio is the portion of the tree that still has live branches which provide food to the plant. The tree should have enough light for the top 40 percent of the tree to maintain live branches and maintain good growth rates.
  • Low density planting on a 9 x 14 (346 tpa) or 10 by 14 (311 tpa) spacing eliminates the need to remove rows for roads and a true selective thinning can be done.
  • Although low density plantings have less volume available for thinning, the thinning generates much more chip-n-saw and more income from selling this by-product.
  • Eliminate the need for thinning and produce sawtimber sooner by planting at very low planting densities (200 tpa).

Wood Quality and Return On Investment (ROI)

  • Depending on assumptions about the future, lower density stands give a higher rate of return, than 500 tpa, on investment to the landowner, by producing chip-n-saw in the thinning and sawtimber in 30 to 35 years.
  • Lowering densities from 350 tpa to 200 tpa causes no significant change in wood quality.
  • Low density plantings will create sawtimber size trees sooner.
  • Use of 100% genetically improved seedlings ensures that almost all stems will be good quality crop trees. Genetically improved seedlings minimize excessive limb growth and reduce knot-size, compared to un-improved loblolly.
  • Tree planting at a lower density costs no more than regular planting. Spot planting can reduce site preparation and planting costs.
  • Low density plantings can be established through spot hand release, which allows pines to grow without total herbicide treatment.