Plant Fu: The Art and Discipline of Planting Trees for Money.
Updated: Apr 4, 2021
Welcome to tree planting you shiny new rookie you. Whatever brought you here, I hope it works out. Being a rookie is extremely tough, you have no start-point, you are beginning at absolute zero and even though at its core tree planting is very simple. Put trees where there are no trees. There is still a lot to learn. So I am trying to think of everything I wish I knew as a rookie, things I have figured out for myself, mostly things that other Vets (veteran tree planters) have taught me over the years, some things I’ve adopted, others adapted. Some things may seem like common sense but I am including them anyway. Also not everything will make sense at first, some won’t until you’ve already been planting for several days, in fact this is much more information than can be absorbed in one session. But my suggestion is print this, and keep it as a reference, and learn with it as you go.
I will start by quickly introducing myself. I have been planting for over a decade. Have planted in Ontario, all over BC and Alberta, and all over Scotland, l have planted over millions of trees, and highballed a couple contracts, and companies. These days I plant as long seasons as I can possibly manage which lately is about 200 days a year. I am not the most experienced vet out there, or the fastest highballer, but I definitely know a thing or two about tree planting, so I am sure there are a few nuggets of information you will find useful in here. Not every vet will agree with all my methods, and many things I am sure you will adapt yourselves and change to more suit your styles, which is fantastic. I am simply trying to give you the best springboard I can whip up.
Occasionally we may need reminders but even the crustiest, most hardcore vet was a rookie once, we all were once. So we understand. Remember that, it will come in handy. Many things about tree planting you kind of have to figure out for yourself, but many can be taught. My goal with this is that you will have all the information you can from the get go, so that the rest will fall on you. Armed with this information, practice, hard work, and will power. The idea is you will be a guaranteed success.
There are many parts making up the whole that is a successful professional tree planter, But over the years I have decided I think they can be categorized by 5 main points. Everything explained later sort of ties in together and is interwoven with these 5 Categories:
I will give a run down on each, and explain. And then cover many tips, methods, and strategies you may employ referring back to them throughout this guide. Along with these five points, and concerning them, from the beginning it is extremely important to develop good habits. Forcing yourself to do certain things and repeating them solidifies them until it is like second nature, like breathing. Developing good habits is another theme that will be recurring throughout this guide, as it is very important. Which is also why before I get into the meat of things I want to stress this, the most detrimental, first and foremost thing to learn, and habit to develop:
Learn to plant good trees.
Learn what a good tree is, learn what the specific quality specs are of your contract and what is demanded of you, and learn to do it right. Talk to your foreman. Ask questions. There are no stupid questions, the only stupid question is the one you don't ask. Though some of them are pretty funny. You should take absolute pride in your work. Know your trees are going to grow, and have long and healthy lives. As the old adage goes, ‘ it takes just as much time to plant a good tree as it does a shitty one.’ If you know you plant good trees you never have to worry. And if you are always planting good trees, you will practice and practice and only be good at planting good trees. The most important habit to develop. Your Grandfather was right, anything worth doing, is worth doing right. You should be cocky about how good your trees are. As soon as the tree is in the ground it should be forgotten. You know it's good, move on. You should already be thinking about the next one, or the one after that. BAM! good tree. Next one. BAM! good tree. Next one. You must be confident in your trees in order to fly.
There are subtle differences contract to contract on tree specifications and what is demanded but the basics usually remain the same.
A good tree is as follows:
Straight up and down,
Green side up
Top of the plug covered
Plug in straight
Plug not compressed
Tight seal holding the tree
No air pockets
Not in so deep that the trees lower lateral branches are buried
Planted In soil; mineral, or smearable organic.
Spacing and density can occasionally range greatly from contract to contract. The best way to figure this is to train your eye. In the beginning throw plots. Lots and lots of them. When you throw a plot don't just look at your trees, and count them. look at the general area of the plot. how much area does it cover? What are your minimums? Is the land flat or on an angle? Look at the kind of pattern that develops in your area of trees when you are throwing good plots. Like looking at dice, you don’t have to count the individual dots to know you rolled a five or a six. You recognize the pattern immediately. It's not hard to tell the difference between someone who is 5 foot 5 and 6 feet tall. You just have to train your brain to do that as if they were lying down. If you have yet to begin planting yet, and you are reading this. Density means how many trees per hectare are allotted or your specific block or contract. For example 1400 stems per hectare means you plant 7’s. Which means in a 3.99 metre radius circle or a “plot” you should have 7 trees usually no less than 2 metres apart from each other. Plots are “thrown” on your land to check your density by swinging a 3.99 metre cord staked to a reference point, usually a shovel in a circle and counting the trees within. If you are really keen and want to practice this pre-season you could make your own cord, map out the circle. And use for example 7 beer bottles placing them in different configurations within your circle. No less than 2 metres from each other.
Get imaginative about how you see density. For example sometimes I imagine that there are elastics attached to my trees so I plant one and stretch out to the next one, and spiderweb my way across the land. Find what-ever works for you, anything that helps you, use it.
Once You know how to plant good trees, you can start worrying about making money and getting faster, and focusing on the five main points.
This is the big one. The holiest of holies. Time is your enemy. Time is your friend. Time is your everything, and so should you time everything. Carry a watch. In absolutely everything you do you should be thinking about how to do it faster, with less effort, less energy expended, less motion. Always learning, Always improving. When you show up to the block, are your boots on ready to go? Are you already wearing your game face? Are you lifting up your shovel 2 feet off the ground when only 4 inches will suffice? A huge habit to enforce immediately is tree in hand! As soon as you hit the land, tree in hand. And soon as you plant you tree. Grab the next one. That’s the number one rookie slowdown in the beginning. Finally getting the hole open, and not having a tree ready to go in it. Are you hammer pounding your shovel into soil that can be penetrated by the gravity of the shovel weight alone? Or are you tentatively tapping around in land where perhaps your shovel should be coming down like the hammer of Thor. Less time, less energy, more efficiency, more trees, more money. If you are stopping in your piece because you ran out of flag and you need a new roll, since you are stopped and not planting, you should be looking ahead down your line, pre-planning your route, looking for spots. Does it look like you are going to have to stop again soon to switch bundles? Switch them now while you are stopped, are you thirsty and just going to stop again in a few minutes for a swig of water, or to pee even? Do everything at once. Always be moving, make each movement flow to the next, and hone each movement to be solely built toward production. Multi-task. Nothing is too minute, nitpicky or crazy. Seconds add up fast, and time truly is money. I will delve into many tips and points concerning effiency as we move along.
A good tr’planter can set their watch to their bag ups and vice-versa. A consistent planter performs well, All day. Everyday. You don't want to burn yourself out one day and be exhausted the next day. Same with your bag ups. Even, consistent, practiced, and paced. Eventually you should know almost to a tree exactly how many trees, minimum, you are going to plant that day within your first bag up. You want a measured pace, until you work into a rhythm. You want to increase your pace in gradual increments. Keeping your focus, and quality. If a slow tree stops you, and messes with your rhythm and time, speed up the next three trees and ease back into your rhythm. Same thing with large sections of slash in a piece. Some people like to tackle it in one go, and just get it over with, which I agree with but also sometimes I find this can severely slow my pace. For example it I work my slashy section over the period or three bag ups, I can power through those parts without tiring and without diminishing the bag up times. The Rhythm you find should be one where you are always pushing yourself just a little more, but not so much that you over tire or burn yourself out. However you always want to save some energy for that final push at the end of the day, that’s the nothing to lose push, take a little more than you think you can do in that time frame, and get it done!
Motivation can sometimes be one of the toughest factors. Basically it’s this, use whatever works and anything that works. Whatever gets you moving. If putting a duck on my head and blowing a kazoo while pissing into the wind made me plant harder I’d do it 3 times a day. Listen to music that inspires you, it doesn’t necessarily have to be fast music, just has to make you want to work. I like to listen to music that makes me feel badass and indestructible while I plant, like Biggie Smalls, or Nine Inch Nails. Pretend you are on TV. Or you are being watched by a hot girl, or boy, or whatever way your plot-cord swings. You basically should try to keep in good spirits as much as you can. HAVE FUN! in anyway you can while working. Negative thoughts, bad memories, and feeling down can be a huge killer. You want to keep positive and focused. Trick yourself if necessary. Bag-up seem endless and heavy? Concentrate on covering land instead, pick a point in the distance and motor over there like a tree fueled machine. Then when you arrive pick a new spot. Land seems endlessly long? Focus on emptying your bags. Though there are always exceptions, many people have a lot to say about a good anger pound. Be hungry for trees. Be competitive, pick someone faster than you and try to take them down. Watch them plant, and try to put in two trees for their every one. Bag up more than they do, and get it in faster. Make yourself want it. Why are you planting trees? Whether it’s for the money, or the sense of accomplishment, for fun, for something new, or just pure competitiveness find your drive and max it out. Set a high goal, here’s some kitten poster philosophy, Aim for the moon, if you miss, you will still end up among the stars.
It's easy to say to do all these things. It’s easy to say you’re not going to take any breaks, or not have a cigarette until you have 1000 trees in, or not take your bags off all day. But actually going out there and doing them are two entirely different things. In the end, it’s all on you. You kind of have to be a bastard to yourself. Often being a successful planter means doing the exact opposite of what you want to do. When you want to sit down, you should bag up. When it’s raining and horrid and you want to hide under the cache tarp, you will freeze. You should just pound it out and keep warm. There is no real secret key to planting trees. What it comes down to is you have to work really really hard. Make a goal in the morning, one you wish to surpass. What do you need to do in order to accomplish this goal? Let’s say for example your goal is 2000 trees, and you are bagging up 250 at a time. You know that you have to put in 8 bag ups, in 9 hours, that means if you are planting 250 an hour then you have 7.5 minutes per cache break. the next step is of course DO it! Sacrifice is a huge part of the self discipline that you need to employ. You have to sacrifice something in order to plant a lot of trees, mostly your free time, and in some ways your body. If you end up sacrificing your tree quality when trying to go fast, then you just end up replanting. What’s the point in planting 3000 trees, if you have to replant the next 3 days? You might as well have planted 1000 good trees, and not feel like a shit-heel replanting. On really good number days, I typically am thinking about planting all day. If your mind is wandering too much then you have reached a comfort zone, time to bust out of it again. Constant movement, constant improvement. How do you face a challenge? If you hit a wall, are you going to mope? Or say Screw you wall! and blast on through. Your decision.
Everything in tr’planting is changing, all the time, ever dynamic, ever new. Land, microsites, weather, numerous different waves of evil biting bugs, foliage, contract specs, camps, even crew members. Even every tree is different, each one has a slightly different challenge or method, and so you should learn how to plant your trees in many ways, foot closes (always your first step you your next tree), hand closes, shovel closes, I even close with my knee sometimes in mounds. Different hole openings, c-cuts, direct deposits, maybe you even Have a dreaded screefing contract where you have to remove a swatch of duff or grass around each tree you are to plant. Will you foot screef? Hand screef? Or shovel screef? Follow a vet on your crew around and watch them plant. Try to figure out the decisions they make along the way as they plant. Observe technique, ask questions. Most would probably be happy to oblige, and in the end it will probably be a worthwhile investment. Whatever is closest , whatever is fastest, or most fluid. Sometimes you might have to plant 5’s in a band around your bushline, and 7’s in your piece, and 9’s in your burns. You never know what the next contractor will dream up for how they want the job done. Your job is to adapt your tree, and method to shape each situation, in order to keep your efficiency and thus profits to a maximum all the while maintaining and overcoming whatever new challenges are forced upon you. You must be able to adapt on command, Weather is big, the old adage ‘Don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” is silly true, you are basically gambling if you don’t have sufficient back-up layers, or wet-weather gear, or maybe sunblock, and bug-dope.
At the cache:
When finished your bag up and reaching the cache the first thing you should always do is bag up again, this is one of those good habits you want to solidify. It gets it out of the way and done so as soon as you are ready to go, so are your bags. When bagging up try to have all the trees you are going to bag within arms length, and start with the furthest ones away while putting them into your bag. Everything is about efficiency and saving time. Have your flag ready, your water, and garbage box within arms reach so you can be drinking your water and depositing your wrappers all at the same time.. Always minimalize effort. If you are bagging up the same amount every time, become an expert at it. Figure out how you best like your trees in your bags, and how you can pull them out, how they fit best, and to transfer them quickest and easiest. Figure out a system for yourself so that when you hit the cache it is automatic. When you are new at planting and you are slow in the land, the easiest way to make up time and make more money right away is unfortunately to have very quick cache breaks, to maximize the time you are out there working in the land. You should aim for 10 minutes at the very most, from getting out of your piece, to walking back in. A cache break is a break but think of it as a pit-stop in a race. The driver doesn’t get out of the car, and go for a coffee or nap. It’s part of the race, the timer is still running. Get everything you need done as quick as possible and get back on the track! Besides you shouldn't be eating too much at one time anyway, you don't want to be full. It's better to eat small amounts, little energy packets, all through the day then sit down and have a large meal. A full stomach makes you sluggish. If you are a smoker try using your cigarette to time your cache breaks. Let your smokes work for you instead of against you. Get your trees ready, light your smoke, and get everything you need done by the time you smoke is finished. Then as soon as your smoke is done get out there!
Bag ups big vs small:
There is no better way, they are simply different effective styles, some people like many small bag ups, they are lightning at the cache, never remove their bags, and often don’t wear shoulder straps for freedom of movement, the draw of the cache break is not as strong so they can put in their numbers with many many bag ups. Some bag big in order to simply ensure they are in the land for long periods of time. However the bags are much heavier, and you must power through the beginnings in order to keep pace and not be out in your piece for too long, I’d say as a general rule, anything over an hour and a half is too long, and less than 30 minutes is too quick. Too long and you begin to tire out and slow down drastically, until the whole reason for bringing the big bag up becomes obsolete. too quick and you are wasting good time and energy that can be spent in your piece. Though even if the cache break is mere moments, sometimes that little refresh, or recharge is absolutely necessary.