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Selecting Equipment for Mechanized Planting

[image] Drawing of a mechanical planterTree planting machines offer higher production rates and a higher likelihood of tree survival compared to hand planting techniques. Mechanical planting saves time and labor and produces better early growth.

A mechanical planter can be used to plant as many seedlings as 10 hand planters. Planting rates as high as 5,000 trees per hour have been reported at well-prepared sites. In addition, comparison studies have demonstrated second-year survival rates for machine-planted seedlings that were 13 percent higher than for hand-planted seedlings.

Most planting machines require good site preparation. Although many machines automatically retract the planting mechanism if it strikes a large obstacle, planting in difficult, uncleared terrain often results in substantial areas that are skipped, as well as machine damage and downtime.

Planting machines are generally restricted to terrain with a slope no steeper than 20 percent. Planting operations are often limited to periods when the site is not too wet for machine to be used nor too dry for the seedlings to survive.

Bareroot planters remain common, but container stock produces seedlings that are in better shape when planted and have higher survival rates after planting. A major complaint concerning mechanized planters for container seedlings has been that they will plant just a single, proprietary type of container. Some manufacturers are now producing machinery that can plant several different types of containers.

Continuous furrow planters use a variety of plow mechanisms to open a furrow where seedlings can be planted. The furrow must be wide enough and deep enough to accept the seedling's roots without distorting them. After the seedling is planted, packing wheels close the furrow and firm the soil around the tree roots. Some heavy-duty models can produce their own furrows even when slash has not been completely cleared from a site. Lighter versions require soil that is not compacted or may operate best in the furrow produced by reforestation plows.

Intermittent planting machines form single holes or short furrows. In most cases, the devices also place the seedlings into the planting sites they create. Intermittent planters can be operated in rugged terrain or in areas with more slash than is suitable for equipment producing a continuous furrow. Intermittent machines also allow the operator to choose the optimal spots for planting. In addition, these machines are not likely to create the erosion problems that continuous furrow planters may create.

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