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When to Thin your Pines


As land managers and owners begin to develop an overall plan for their properties. Many of these plans involve the planting and harvesting of pine plantations. This alone can be a daunting task to develop these plans from the onset. Having a certified forester to assist with this is essential to making good decisions when planting and removing trees. Whether it is to create food plots, or to generate revenue by harvesting larger tracks. Knowing how to get the most from your trees can make the process of managing your land more efficient and profitable.

One of the goals of many recreational land owners and managers is to find a way to make the land profitable or at least to generate some revenue when possible. Of course this depends on the property you own or purchase, and what type of land you have, but getting a piece of property with timber of some kind is essential to developing good habitat for whitetail deer.

The pine plantations that dominate the Carolina’s and Georgia have to be managed in order to get the most from the investment in planting or purchasing the pines as part of your management plan. Planted pines offer a lot to the land manager and property owner. Excellent cover for deer to hide, fawn and feel comfortable. These expanses of plantations can reap excellent benefit for the hunters. As the planted pines reach about ten feet in height they become a sanctuary for deer and other wildlife. This usually occurs around age seven. So for the next seven to eight years the wildlife will flourish in these planted pines. The question is however, when do we as land owners thin the pines to reap the most from the investment?

The process is rather simple, yet can be complex. The rule of thumb is that you thin at ten to fifteen years. Then thin again five years after this, and clearcut five to seven years after this. But as with all things there are and can be significant exceptions to these rules. Land quality, type of trees planted, years of draught all play a role in these time tables. But for planning purposes it gets you started with a few exceptions. To begin with, let’s look at the first thinning. Whether you thin at ten years, twelve, or fifteen depends on your individual trees, your plan and the finances. Let’s face it, the budget can dictate everything here. This first thinning will generate approximately $200-$400/acre depending on the market and the quality of the trees. While this may not seem like a lot, remember these small pines are cut for pulp wood and sold by the ton. The market now is around $9.00/ton for pulp wood. Thinning is not a process to generate a lot of revenue, but it will generate some. Its main purpose is to allow the remaining trees to mature faster by removing some of the competition. This thinning is done by re moving one of the planted rows.  A typical thinning will involve removing a row and leaving three rows, and removing a row. Simply put, one row out of every four is removed.

About five years after this, the second thinning takes place. In the big picture this can be the most important process in the overall plan. Now is when you want to get the most from your efforts before clearcutting. Typically this is done when the remaining trees begin to close the canopy or the cut lanes begin to get shaded out. This process involves loggers using the same cut lanes as before and selectively removing trees that will not make prime timber in the remaining cycle. Often, a certified forester will walk the property and mark every tree that is to be removed. While this is time consuming and laborious, it is the best way to get the most from your investment. Many hunters will take this opportunity to have the forester mark shooting lanes and have the loggers remove trees in a specific area to open up hunting opportunities within the planted pines.

Often thinning is the process of removing trees to assist the growth of the remaining trees. This process is essential to overall land management and the development of hunting lands that offer a variety of habitat for the wildlife.