Head Start Planting System

Willow Planting methods

I have been using willow and tree bio-engineering techniques for riparian planting programs since 1997. The first time I planted willows and trees was on the Canmore Creek project, in Canmore, Alberta. From the very start, I have pre-rooted my cuttings or live stakes in a rooting medium, so that the plants would be well advanced by the planned planting time.

Planting with this method allows the willows and trees to be planted later on in the planting season, as opposed to the required early season planting with live stake planting methods.

If you are completing a fish habitat project that involves riparian planting along the streambanks, the time window for your in-stream activities may be restricted to the later part of the spring or early summer months. By pre-rooting and tending your plant cuttings in a convenient environment you can control and insure good growth until the planting date, later on in the season. The plants will be ready when you are. There is very little planting shock when the plants are push planted or hole punch planted, early in the spring.

With pre-rooted cuttings, you can trench them into the ground, pilot a hole with a pin bar or pre-drill a hole for the placement of the rooted part of the live stake. Then the hole around the plant can be filled with a slurry of soil and water, with some sand added to the bottom of the hole being optional. After which you can tamp around the hole with your foot, to insure that no air gets to the vulnerable root systems.

Above Photo: This is a willow cutting that was planted 15 months earlier, along a creek.

Above: This is a 2000 photo of willow plants that were planted along the top of a 30 metre log wall on Canmore Creek, in the Town of Canmore, Alberta. The willows and trees were planted in 1998 and by now have started to show some rapid growth. Note the amount of  coal mining tailings in the stream channel!

Above: This is a 2009 photo of the same log wall with both willow and trees now established along the top of the structure. Note how the stream channel has cleaned itself of coal mining tailings and the slope above the log wall has stabilized.

The Head Start Planting System Workshop

The Head Start Planting System is something that I first started working on in 1998, on a stream restoration and enhancement program that I was conducting on Canmore Creek, in Canmore, Alberta. Some of the methodology involved pre-growing native willows and trees, so that they would be ready for planting on some fish habitat enhancement designs and also covering a rather large log-wall, constructed at the base of a valley slope, consisting of mining tailings from a few old coal mines in the area.

In 2011, I presented a paper and video presentation at a First Nations Riparian Workshop, in Standoff, Alberta. The paper or manual was titled the “Head Start Planting System”. Since that time, I have continued to work in riparian restoration and I have developed further knowledge on the propagation of native willows and trees for riparian plantings. Many folks have asked me about my system of collecting, growing and planting native cuttings from willows and deciduous poplars and aspen trees, and I have always promised a paper on my technology.

Finally, I decided to publish a simplified manual for everyone interested in riparian plantings, using the right native stock for planting, and how to plant. The promise was made that I would have something done in the new year, and it is time to pay up. This is a virtual workshop, complete with a manual and video of how to carry out successful riparian plantings. Please remember that you need all of the necessary permits and permissions in place, prior to conducting a riparian planting project or program.

The manual is too large a file size for a single download onto this site, so I had to spit it into two parts. You can download the parts into a single manual for review.

The video production is part of the workshop training program, so with the manual and video, you are all set to learn a new system of collecting, growing and planting native willow stock and poplar and aspen trees. It is better to play it safe and plant only what historically grew along some of our local trout streams. I have witnessed the introduction of plants that may be native to Alberta, but not to a particular section of the province. By collecting and growing your own cuttings, you will confidently know that the plants are the right choice for a specific trout stream.

This is the most productive method of growing plants for push plantings, and the hole punch method, which is used for volunteer group plantings, corporate groups and students.

The burlap soil retainer method of planting is covered in the downloaded manual, including how the fabric and plants are laid out, on a slope. Reviewing the diagram in the manual, while viewing the video will help you understand this system of planting a little more clearly.

Planting in soil retainers is a very effective method of planting on the top of rip-rap or on slopes, where loose soil is used for the planting and reclamation of slopes near streams.

In the video of preparing a burlap rooting medium, below, you will notice that the tops of the cuttings are kept at a minimum distance from the top of the soil in the roll. There is a reason for this, on this particular application. When growing plants for a planting in the later part of the spring, at a project site, you are going to end up with Stage Two growth and larger, on the rolls. The young buds will have to compete for sunlight with the cutting shafts, if they are too long.

By keeping the shaft of the cutting short, only the new buds will have to compete with each other for sunlight. At this early stage of growth, the new shoots or limbs are pretty resilient and they have a better chance of surviving this competition for the sun. Only a few inches above the soil, with a bud node above the soil. Having a bud node just above the ground is the best option, but the new shoots from below ground will break thru to the sun as well. It just takes a little longer, and you would like to have fairly even growth, so the tops of all of the new limbs get some rays.

The use of the burlap rooting medium for growing both native willows and tree cuttings is primarily used for trench planting or soil retainer planting. Both of these methods are covered in this workshop.
This video shows how I collect cuttings for preparation in growing mediums, for a spring planting.

There are 6 varieties of Salix that I collect, grow and plant. Along with non Salix varieties such as wolf willow, red osier dogwood, poplar, aspen and mountain alder. There are 26 collection sites that I have used over the past decade of collecting for the riparian planting programs that Bow Valley Habitat Development has been involved in. In the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program, the total plantings is over seventy thousand cuttings, alone.

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