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Post: Growing Wattle

wattle
Good genetic material together with ecommended silviculture will result in uniform high yielding compartments.

Growing Wattle

Craig Norris, NCT’s Tree Farming Manager

Despite the temporary setback with the Richards Bay fire, the prospects for wattle timber and bark markets over the next few years are very good. However, the resource is under pressure with reports of shrinking areas and declining yield.

The commercial wattle plantation area has reduced due to conversion to Eucalyptus (Corporates) and to commercial agriculture.

Reduction in yield can be attributed to the impact of pest and disease and challenging environmental conditions (hail, wind, drought, heat, frost). Management interventions can arrest this decline and result in improved timber and bark production

What to plant?

Wattle clones (cuttings) are recommended over seedlings and are now available through registered nurseries.

The cloneAF1 and SP644s have been developed for tolerance to the wattle rust disease. AF1 will produce a higher bark and timber tonnages but it does have excessive branching and requires an early corrective prune. SP644 is a very close second choice and has a better form with lighter branches. The improved uniformity and vigour of clone plantations will result in a significant yield improvement. From trials and early growth in commercial plantations indications are that if Production Seed Orchard Seedlings gave you 85 to 100 tonnes of timber per Ha on your farm, there is no reason why the above two clones will not achieve 100 to 130 tonnes/ha. FW54 is a frost tolerant clone and can handle winter temperatures as low as minus six (trial data). However, this is dependent on early season planting (before December shut-down) and a hardening off period before the first extreme frost.

Wattle
Wattle clone trial. A seedling plot in the foreground with a AF1 clone plot in the background.

What are the negatives of planting clones?
The main one is windthrow, because they are established from cuttings the root development is slower which can lead to young trees falling over; from experience it is worth providing support to such trees with stakes. Purchasing clones established in the ellipot system and planting them slightly deeper than seedlings also seem to reduce the risk of windthrow. The other negative is the cost of the clones (R4 000 more/Ha more than seedlings). However, one must consider the increase in both timber and bark, to make up the difference.

Green wattle is another option to consider. Both NTE and UCL have done bark tannin trials during the past wattle season and have agreed to accept limited quantities of bark from green wattle.

However, black wattle remains the preferred bark source and we don’t recommend converting this species but rather consider suitable pine or eucalypt compartments. Green wattle can withstand up to 3˚C colder temperatures than black wattle, providing you plant early in the growing season. This means in cooler areas where in the past you may have planted species such as E. dunnii, could be converted which could increase your NSV by up to R20 000/Ha.

Silviculture recommendations Planting at the correct spacing and thinning to ensure the optimum stocking at rotation end has a significant impact on your final timber and bark yield. Seedlings should be planted at a spacing of 3 x 1.5m which is 2200/Ha and thinned down to about 1 500 stems when the trees get to about 7m-9m (1 400 stems on dry sites). It is important while thinning, to ensure that all dead, diseased, deformed, and weaker trees are removed. Clones can be planted at 3 x 1.8 which is 1 800/ Ha and allows for some mortality and windthrow.

Pruning of wattle is an important silviculture operation as the relatively wide planting escapement promotes the growth of side branches. Insect damage and browsing may also increase the amount of forking. This is a simple operation which is frequently carried out incorrectly. The object of pruning is not to prune minor side branches for producing knot free timber as is done for pines, but rather to improve the form of badly shaped trees. Wattle is extremely susceptible to disease infection through wounds and over-pruning is a serious risk.

Use a small team of skilled labourers and close supervision is essential. Trees should be pruned before they are 2m tall. All basal shoots and the weaker leader forks should be removed using secateurs. Basal forks which are too large for secateurs should be removed with a small bowsaw, not with an axe, tearing of bark must be avoided. Always leave a stub of 20 to 30cm long to prevent the entry of disease into the main stem. Pruning during winter is preferable as the incidence of disease is lower.

Serious insect or climatic damage may necessitate this step being carried out again.

Although wattle is a hardy and robust crop, it is very sensitive to management practices. If the right genetic material is planted wattle can yield over 20 tonnes of bark and 100 tonnes of timber at nine years of age if it has been properly planted, fertilised, weeded, and thinned.

Source: NCT Forest – April 2024 (Page 14 – 15)

 

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