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Why do some trees grow on my property and others don’t? 

Landowners purchase their properties for a number of reasons: location, hunting, wildlife viewing, fishing, recreation, quiet getaways, to name a few. Some properties have streams, lakes, fields, roads, buildings, residences, and trees.

Once landowner’s begin researching how to make improvements to their properties and woodlots, that is usually when they get a forester involved. I answer many landowner questions concerning woods and trees. One question I get asked a lot is, “Why do I not have any oaks on my property?” or “Why are certain trees growing here but not others?”

Reasons why certain trees grow in our area

There are a number of reasons why certain trees grow in our local areas. The main three are because of soil type, a tree’s shade tolerance, and finally, past land use practices (such as tree planting or agriculture). There are other factors as well such as insect/disease, water level issues, or climate. But for the scope of this article let’s focus on the first two that are mentioned: soil type and shade tolerance.

There are many soil types and each type is better suited to grow certain types of plants and trees. In Wisconsin there are more than 800 different soils, but I will keep this much more simple for all of us to understand and narrow this down to a few soils most of us are familiar with.  

On one end of the spectrum are sandy soils. Sandy soils allow water to drain thru easily and tend to be more apt to grow tree species such as jack pine, scrub/pin/black oak, red pine, aspen, red maple, and white pine to name a few.

On the other end of the soil spectrum are clay and muck soils (usually found in stream bottoms and wetlands) that are heavier and consequently, water does not drain thru very easily. These soils are more apt to grow trees such as cedar, tamarack, fir, black ash, white pine, spruce, red maple.

In the middle of the spectrum are soils like silts and loams. These soils tend to grow trees such as northern red oak, sugar maple, white ash, basswood, aspen, and birch.

The second reason certain trees are growing (or not growing) on your property is their ability to grow within a shaded environment. If a tree is very shade tolerant, it has an ability to grow in a highly shaded environment. If a tree is very shade intolerant, that means it does not grow as well in a shaded environment and as a consequence, needs a lot of sunlight to grow.

Tolerance spectrum

  • Very Intolerant Species (grows well in full sun): aspen, jack pine, cottonwood, tamarack
  • Intolerant Species: black cherry, red pine, black ash, white birch, white ash
  • Intermediate Species: bur oak, red oak, white oak, white spruce, white pine, yellow birch
  • Tolerant Species: basswood, white cedar, silver maple, red maple
  • Very Tolerant (grows well in shade): beech, hemlock, balsam fir and sugar maple

Why is soil type and shade tolerance important to foresters?

Because understanding them help us manage and grow trees that are best suited for the site. It also helps us make decisions that will drive the best long term woodlot management success to meet the landowners goals. It tells us what trees are likely to succeed in planting and what type of harvest is best suited for a particular woodlot. Mother Nature tells us a lot and we try not to buck her very often!  

Have questions about the trees on your property or some other forestry related topic? Contact our team and connect with one of our experienced foresters.

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