Tending to Your Pine Plantation with Harvesting Pine Straw in Mind

Managing an Existing Pine Stand

Seldom is a stand of pine, newly considered for straw harvesting, desirable for the production of straw. A great deal of effort and planning is required to prepare East Texas stands for the harvesting of pine straw bales that are free of cones, leaves, limbs, trash. In fact, at least two years of preparation is often required before quality, clean straw may be harvested with minimal effort. Steps required for successful management include:

  1. Develop a management plan: Managing a successful forest resource enterprise, like any other business, involves planning and decision-making prior to its establishment and throughout the life of the enterprise. Some of the general steps that need to be followed to successfully begin and manage an alternative enterprise are:
    • Define realistic, clear, and concise objectives and your level of involvement.
    • Investigate the marketing potential of the pine straw in your area.
    • Investigate the biological and management potential and/or concerns of harvesting pine straw on your land.
    • Identify any major limiting factors such as financial or taxation constraints which may limit your success.
    • Enlist the help of professionals.
  2. Competition control: understory vegetation interferes with raking and reduces the quality of the bale. Control unwanted shrubs, weeds and trees with herbicides or mowing.
  3. Prune: remove lower limbs of pines to facilitate harvesting. The lower limbs can interfere with the harvesting equipment and/or people. Live limbs not receiving partial light may also cause unwanted stress on the crop tree, and pruning may improve wood quality.
  4. Clean: the next step is to clear the area of all twigs, pine cones, and tree limbs. This can be done manually on a site that has an especially desirable quantity of straw. Otherwise an alternative is to mechanically rake all debris, including some straw out and not harvest straw that year.
  5. Fertilize: Tree growth may be improved with fertilization on many, but not all, sites. Fertilization may also increase straw production by increasing the amount of foliage on each tree. Studies have shown that two to five times more needle biomass may be produced after fertilization. Growth of herbaceous vegetation will be increased by fertilization and will need to be eliminated before raking.


    Poultry litter being ground broadcasted in a 17 year old pine plantation.
    Click on the image to view a QuickTime movie.

Establishing a New Pine Plantation

If establishing a new pine straw site, select a site (10 acres minimum) that has been previously used for crops or pasture and is relatively level. Perform the necessary site preparation steps (sub-soiling, tilling) needed to ensure survival and productivity of newly planted seedlings. Purchase quality pine seedlings from a nursery that has a good reputation for seedling quality and care. Don’t wait until planting season to order seedlings. Seedling orders should be placed in April or May. Carefully plant trees in well-marked rows 10 feet apart. To ensure the best chance of survival and productivity, follow guidelines in the Loblolly Pine Planting manual. While trees are growing, be sure to control underbrush and other trees that may hinder survival and growth and cause problems later with the raking of the pine straw.

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