First sign of summer and all our environmental events start. Earth Day, Water Day, Environment Day and so on. Why there is no environmental event in winters? Let’s have one “Save Arctic Ice”. Jokes apart but the reason is that all such activity originated in the developed nations of the world where winters are severe and the third world countries are just trying to follow blindly.
One such activity is “Tree Plantation” which is incorrectly named because we are not planting trees. We are planting saplings and nurturing them to become trees. It’s not a one day activity.
If even 50 % of the trees planted in India survived we should have had an amazon like forest by now.
Good plantation drive should increase green cover. But unplanned plantation drives and negligence results in crores of rupees wasted every year along with time and effort. The green cover decreases further. Certainly there are incidents beyond anyone’s control that can contribute to a tree planting failure. Random weather conditions for example being one. However, there are a far greater number of factors totally within human control that contribute to tree planting failures.
I have put together this post for the benefit of private plantation drives by societies or individuals and for governmental policy makers who plan such activities. Following tips comes from years of observing failures of such drives both in northern and southern India. Successful tree planting does not happen by chance — it requires thought, planning and attention to detail.
1) Place- The most important factor is the place selected for plantation event. All other factors are linked to it. Our loyal green neighbors in my layout faithfully organize a plantation drive on the banks of biggest lake in Bengaluru every year on 5th of June and every year there is fire on the banks and all are gutted. This year’s fire in February made a head line both nationally and internationally.
The selected area has to be safe from such accidental/ man-made catastrophes. Usually a piece of land is cleaned of all existing wild plants so that a government official holding a high position can come and plant a sapling on one of the environmental days. This land is often far from any water source or human settlement to look after it. The end result is neither the planted tree nor the wild shrubs exist in the land.
One can always grow small trees and shrubs in and around the housing societies so that trees can be safely nurtured to maturity. They will keep surroundings cool, give oxygen, provide shelter to urban birds and give organic manure too.
2) Time of the Year- As I mentioned earlier we should not follow the plantation drives of other places. We have warm climate with summer temperatures rising above 40C in most of the places. Saplings when replanted in these conditions mostly die due to heat even if watered regularly. Winters of North India kills these saplings due to frost so the right time for a plantation drive is at the start of monsoons or in autumn in warmer regions. In places of heavy rainfall roots are spoiled due to too much water.
3) Cattle- The number one cause of failure of plantation drives in india. Now becomes even worse because of the political scenario. One can safely say that no land in India is free from grazing cattle. Been trying to tell this to all the seed spreading groups and seed bombing activists that it’s a futile activity. Be it along the highway or in the city the local dairy/shed owners let their animals loose to search for food during day time. Most of the plants we try to grow are loved by these animals. Goats and sheep can eat almost any plant even a thorny one. Last years drive in Nagpur region failed in few days due to cattle.1,2
Photo below is of an empty plot next to my place where I have been trying seed dispersal, seed bombing, guerrilla farming with all types of seeds/saplings for the last 7 years without a single success . If any plant has to survive it has to be protected from the cattle.
4) Type of trees- Selection of trees depend on all the factors above. Some trees are sturdier than others and can manage even in dry hot climate as well as in a heavy rainfall. Some plants dry up the surrounding areas as they absorb all the ground water and pull it up like eucalyptus.
Some are toxic to the small wild plants and weeds growing under them and some catch fire very easily due to dry wood and resin coming out of the. According to Sundarlal Bahuguna the 86-year-old Gandhian and a leader in Chipko movment, pine trees in the foothills of Himalayas are the cause of forest fires and floods too as the thin trees cannot stop flow of water. Walnut trees would have protected the hills better.
Trees should be carefully selected. All delicate and fruit baring trees should be planted in an area protected from cattle and close to water source. Trees like Acacia manage in very hot and dry climate and are not eaten by animals. They are considered invading species as their saplings grow even in a asphalted area.(Photo-below) . These are ideal for urban areas and highway. These trees absorb lot of dust.
Sisal also grows well along the highway. Trees like eucalyptus are good in rainy hill slopes as they get all the water they need and don’t dry out the surrounding lands.
5) Attack of Organisms- Bacteria , Fungus or worms all can attack a recently competed drive. Caretakers usually take help of chemicals to remove the organisms but harm the soil and water. Careful selection of trees native to that area fare better in such cases. It’s always better to make grafts/kalams of trees growing in the surrounding area or collect their seeds as they are resistant to organisms of that area. Sometimes weeds and small plants also act as pesticides. A combination of trees which help each other in repulsing pests, used in many natural farms, can also be applied. It is often a beautiful combination with flowers and herbs along with green trees.
These are the points to be looked prior to plantation but there are causes of failures in the process of planting trees too.
-Extreme drought immediately after planting
-Heavy freezing of the ground immediately after the trees are planted
-Heating of trees in bundles while in transit
-Delay in unpacking
-Setting the roots improperly in the holes (too deep, too shallow, or crushing the stem of the tree when packing the soil)
-Flooding due to poor drainage or a very wet season
-Low spots subject to late frosts (frost pockets)
-Land wholly unsuited to the species of trees planted on it.
All of the above possible causes of loss, except the factors of drought and freezing, can be avoided if the stock is carefully chosen and the trees are properly planted.
All the best for the next plantation drive