Tree Time! by Fred Wooley

One aspect of Blue Heron Ministries land stewardship work is managing conservation reserve program (CRP) acreage for landowners. The CRP program is a federal government initiative to encourage landowners to convert land, mostly former agricultural land, back to a more original, natural landscape that supports native plants and wildlife. It is a practice that conserves water and soil and provides habitat.


The CRP program requires some management of the lands and that could include planting of prairie and forest species, as well as prescribed burning. This spring, BHM has been active with both planting of trees and prescribed fire on CRP ground.


Two such farms in opposite corners of Steuben County received March burns and April tree plantings. On one property, we planted slightly over 1,800 bare-root stock trees from the State of Indiana Division of Forestry nursery, and on the other about 900 trees.


As with any practice, success lies in both the preparation and the planting process. On both parcels, lanes between the rows of trees had to be mowed to facilitate both planting and maintaining of the young saplings taking hold.


To facilitate planting, a gas-powered auger was rented to drill holes into which new trees were placed. Not all is mechanical and noisy; the author’s preferred tool of choice is a narrow and deep spade which sliced the loamy soil with a spring song and allowed me to enjoy the sounds of passing cranes and active sparrows.

With wet conditions in recent weeks and very wet soils we were often able to plant trees and let Mother Nature take care of the first watering. When water was needed, we gave each new tree a good tree from our ATV powered water tank.


Did I say adequate, timely rain?… How about adequate, timely snow! On two occasions, surprise snow squalls pelted planters to our great amusement. At one point the snow was so driven and forceful with nearly white-out conditions, fellow worker, Rita Smith, just looked at me and started laughing!


On one farm, I worked alone on a very snowy April 2 and had a complete mixed bag of weather. First clouds, then snow! … enough snow, infact, that I had to walk the rows to search for holes as the snow covered the soil piles. Then sun. The snow melted. Then more snow, driving snow, sleet, and ground covered again, then a sunny haze… It was wild. I’m sure passing motorists thought I was crazy out there in the field with a spade and a five gallon bucket of tree seedlings in driving snow.


The snow was wet and very sticky. I felt like a dog! My pants were a little long with ragged hems. Where bits of shredded cuffs hit the ground they accumulated wet snow and ice. As the snow fell and stuck I developed snow and ice chunks the size of baseballs and hockey pucks. It became cumbersome to walk. I was like a dog with ice balls on its paws. So annoying! I could not reach down and pull them off, they were frozen stuck. Stomping them off did not work! I can see now why a dog drops to its side and chews around its paws. Frustrated, I would have nearly done the same, but I can’t reach my boots to my mouth. When it warmed, I could kick them off. It made me laugh eventually.


When all was said and done, we planted black, red, scarlet, shingle, and swamp white oaks, black walnut, cherry, tulip, white pine, and a few assorted species from the IDNR wildlife packet. Now, we wait and watch them grow. The landowners take it from here.


If you are a landowner or tree enthusiast, possibly you are doing the same this April! It is tree time indeed.


Here are some quotes on such and I hope I have them attributed to the proper sources:


  • “The best time to plant a tree was 50 years ago.. the second best time is today.” – National Arbor Day Foundation
  • “Blessed is he who plants a tree, knowing that he will never sit under its shade.” – Roger Woodcock, Pokagon CCC veteran and good friend.
  • “The best time to plant a tree is on a rainy day.” – Ron Farnham, former Pokagon State Park employee and self-employed landscaper.
  • “The best time to plant a tree is on a rainy day… or a snowy day…” – Blue Heron Ministries.


This article, along with several more, was featured in the April edition of Rustling Grass.  To read the entire newsletter, visit our archives page. To get the newsletter sent directly to your inbox, let us know at Thanks for reading!


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