Planting Red Alder

It’s springtime and the ground is very saturated from the rains. Young alder are springing up around the property, many of them in places where we don’t want trees to establish. Red Alder are the first trees up in a new forest. They thrive in disturbed soil and work to fix nitrogen for the future evergreen giants who will ultimately shade them out, creating a thick layer of canopy to defuse rain and cultivate the temperate rain forest that is the native bioregion of The Pacific Northwest.

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baby alder line up along eastern fence line

Instead of pulling up the alder and discarding them, I took the trees to a fence line and replanted them to create a natural hedge. There are enough to mass plant the fence and a few extra to pass on to other friend for their own natural fencing projects. The loose soil makes uprooting the young trees easy, transplanting with as much root ball as possible. The alder will establish in their new home and compete for top spots in the hedge construction. As the alder grown, they will be coppiced and pleachered to shape the fence and protect other species once planted. Osage orange, elderberry, huckleberry, and other understory species will be introduced as the red alders grow.

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more young alders establishing along the property edge

The goats have eaten back the blackberry enough to make space for the new trees. Some larger alders will be given individual spots with enough space to get a head start. Other native species will be added as needed. Deer are much less interested in alder, and the alder can be laid down to create protective spaces for other more appetizing species which need time to establish before surviving the ungulate browsing. Hopefully, the living fence will discourage deer from getting inside the property, growing into a living wall to protect the more vulnerable plants on the inside of the fence line.

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larger alder placed alone to grow faster

The larger alder already show vigerous growth potential and are given their space to establish and become standards for the hedge. They will offer shade in summer and a rich mulch of leaves each fall. These gifts will protect against drought and seal in moisture for the under-story plants. The nitrogen rich soil will encourage other young plants to grow and offer a boost of nutrients to young plants in need of support. Melinda Denham, my hedgerow friend, has used many of my alders already and is cultivating a Cancadian Sussession Hedge of her own design in which the alder are a foundation of the hedge with the expectation that as they are shaded out by the other native trees and shrubs, a succession much like the one in mature forests will offer similar soil stability and fertility for the long term health of the hedge.

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more alders line up to establish the hedgerow

I’ve chosen to plant many of the smaller alders on top of each other to encourage a strong rooting barrier. The trees will self select as they grow and only the strongest will make it into the hedge long term. The alder stands around the property will continue to offer new young seedlings to fill in around the land as more hedges are begun. Fencing will still have to go up in the main cultivation block on the farm, but screening them with a natural hedge creates diverse edge space where the highest count of species in nature thrive. Wildlife will flock to these edge spaces for shelter and food, inviting a thriving community of plants and animals for the health of the ecosystem.

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