‘When you plant a tree, you plant a legacy’, noted journalist Pepper Provenzano has said once.
Trees, being the most essential for the life of not only human beings but all the living creatures of this planet, also act as an important link between the past, present and future. The existence of species including humans is not possible without plants hence they are the lifeline and base for the survival of man.
Tree planting is undoubtedly one of the best and cheapest ways to sequester carbon from the atmosphere besides supporting and sustaining biodiversity and controlling other climate change-induced repercussions thereby having the mind-blowing potential to tackle the climate crisis and environmental challenges and disasters.
Of late there have been launching massive tree-planting projects across the globe driven by political or environmental conscientiousness with impressive numbers running into millions and billions. Be it the Bonn Challenge (2011) to commit to restoring 150 MHA of degraded forests or Billion Tree Tsunami (2014) of Pakistan or China’s Great Green Wall to tackle 35 million hectares or Ethiopia’s planting of 350 million saplings or recent One Trillion Tree project of the World Economic Forum (WEF), tree planting is being chosen as the best natural climate solution to capture carbon and tackle the climate crisis.
Despite this magnificent role being played by the trees in mitigating environmental challenges, one needs to tread cautiously as any omission in the selection of place or species without considering local factors and ecology may lead to negative consequences and more damages to ecosystems than the intended benefits.
The best example of this is planting seedlings in grassland like Savannas which may be disastrous causing loss of biodiversity and extinction of typical residents like the Great Indian bustard, blackbucks, giraffe, etc.
“Records” of plantations turned futile
With the planting targets running into billions across the globe and even creating a world record like one made by Turkey (2019) for the most trees planted (303,150) in one hour and another one made by Ken Chaplin (Canada) in 2001 for planting the most number of trees 15,170 red pine in one day by the individual, many of such projects have failed to meet the anticipated objectives of tree planting projects or have been partially successful even after spending millions of dollars.
There have been reports of failure of these drives due to various reasons like being planted “not by experts” and “at the wrong time” as witnessed in Turkey during 2019 with nearly 90 % mortality.
One section of people even considers launching such planting drives as a means to rebrand themselves or divert the public attention from pressing environmental issues. Even the prestigious tree planting program of China was beset by problems due to poor planning, unrealistic demands, and a poor understanding of tree planting. Had these projects achieved their targets, we would have improved the forest cover significantly but unfortunately, this is not the scene.
As any plants, especially forestry species take a long time to grow with continued post-planting care, the usual Plant and grow approach of the majority of such drives without ensuring resources and mechanism for post-planting care results in failure.
The thorough analysis of objectives, planning, implementation, stakeholders' role, involvement of communities, and continuity of maintenance and monitoring are crucial factors that need critical analysis before launching any tree planting drive and making it successful.
Tree planting is an art and science that attempts to replicate the capacity of nature to respond and react to existing conditions. Any attempt with a lackadaisical attitude and failure to take the required step is bound to get reflected in the success of tree planting.
A study conducted by Dr. Kate Hardwick of Royal Botanical Garden Kew stated that planting the wrong trees in the wrong place one will do more harm than good. The umpteen combinations of scientific factors, soils, climate, local terrain coupled with social, economic, and administrative factors play a decisive role in the success of tree planting.
So one must examine and consider these factors carefully before launching a tree-planting project.
1.Choice of species
Selecting the right species based on the local need (aesthetics or landscape or conservation or fruit-bearing for livelihood) and suitability to local site conditions is the most desired aspect for the quick success of plantation and the betterment of biodiversity conservation. In case of involvement of communities or other stakeholders, their consent should be given due consideration to the extent possible for better post-planting care and survival.
2.Planting location or site
The selection of an appropriate site for planting depends upon various factors like purpose of planting, soils, drainage, moisture, etc. It’s better to check and confirm whether the species you have decided to plant suits the proposed location or not?
Another very crucial factor (also sometimes called land preparation in forestry terms) involves executing a series of operations that are essential to make the area suitable for tree planting in all aspects. The list of activities includes site selection, arranging men and machines, timely availability of finance, preparation of soil and digging pits, etc.
4. Quality seedling (As you sow, so you reap):
Productivity and survival of plantations are related to the quality of seedlings used which outperform the poor quality seedlings in all aspects. The features like good height, well-developed root system, well-grown collar, good foliage etc. are few traits apart from the genetic material of a quality seedling.
Whether it's fall or spring, there are different opinions with their supportive reasons, the role of timely planting is very crucial for the establishment of trees.
The fall planting facilitates utilization of less watering, cool temperature and short bright days making it more attractive than the spring planting where we have the entire growing season for the establishment of the plant.
The south Asian countries however prefer June or July for their planting which coincides with the onset of monsoon and helps plants in a quick establishment. Whatever time is chosen, the key to success is to stick to that planting time to get the most of the prevailing season and conditions for a quality result.
A much technical aspect that requires more professional guidance to take care of things like the size of the pit, time of digging pit, method of planting, refilling of soil, stakes, etc the technique also needs equal attention.
7. External factors
Once you have planted the seedling there are many external factors including environmental factors like light, weather, soil type, water, humidity, etc. which equally influence the growth of plants if not attended to with sincerity. Issues of consultation of local communities with due regards to their customary rights and management regimes also become very relevant for the success of tree planting involving huge numbers and people.
8.Protection of plants
Protection of plants is more relevant where the mass scale planting is undertaken. The man-made reasons like deliberate damage or damage due to negligence and also by the animals in the form of grazing and browsing if not taken care of with suitable measures cause irreparable damage to growing plants. Protection from natural factors like frost, fire, etc also warrants equal attention for suitable protection.
9. Post-planting care
The maintenance of plants like watering, mulching, grooming (tending), soil-improving measures, weed removal, application of fertilizers, etc plays a considerable role in the growth of plants.
The above list is not exhaustive as there are other factors like availability of funds, involvement of communities/stakeholders, the attitude of people involved, proper monitoring and supervision, etc, and many more which may be area-specific hence demand attention accordingly.
However, for the above factors in one survey conducted with the staff of Telangana Forest Department India, where the participants were asked to accord weightage on a scale of 0-10 to above important factors, factors like quality seedlings, choice of species, protection of plants and time of planting got more than 50% weightage thereby indicating them to be most influential for the success of any tree planting drive.