Planting Eldarica Pines on an Arid Farmstead

Reader Contribution by RenÉE Benoit
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The operator pokes the forklift where we want the hole, and the whole thing rears back off the ground. I hope he knows what he’s doing! (Quickly, we see that he does.)
Photo by Renée Benoit

So, you’ve done your research. You’ve determined what trees grow well on your soil and climate. You’ve determined where best to plant them on your property given their height and width at maturity. They’re purchased and now you’re ready to plant!

Planting trees is not a hard process if you have modern tools like a garden tractor. Actually, it’s not a hard process if you have friendly soil, too. I have lived all over the United States and I can tell you from experience that there are places with friendly soil and there are places with enemy soil! When we lived in Northern California near the foothills of the Mendocino National Forest we had enemy soil. It was so hostile that I eventually gave up and went to container gardening. A pick axe would barely make a dent in the parched, heavy clay, mineralized soil of summer. We were advised to wait until the winter rains but we didn’t have the patience so we caved in and bought soil to fill damaged livestock water troughs. By contrast when we lived in the Central Valley near the San Joaquin River delta we had friendly soil. It was easy to cultivate.

Digging and Preparing the Holes

It turns out that we have something in between enemy and friendly soil where we live now. It’s agreeable but not entirely so. I can actually dig a hole but we are older and planting sixteen trees all at once is a little beyond our comfort zone. We use modern mechanical equipment to make the process easier. To wit, we hired a man with a tractor to help us dig our holes. You do what you have to do.

From a different angle dirt comes out of the hole where he’s poked.
Photo by
Renée Benoit

When the holes are ready, we fill them part way with soil conditioner mulch. Pick a soil conditioner mulch that works with your soil conditions. Some places you might need to add gypsum. Other places just need organic material so rotted steer manure works well. Get organic steer manure if you can. Whatever they’ve been feeding the cows comes out the other end with who knows what-all in it. We made holes twice as big as the tree bag and put half a bag into each hole. Soil conditioner mulch adds nutrients and improves aeration and porosity.

Preparing the Soil and Setting the Trees

We mix the soil conditioner mulch with the native soils a little bit. The little trees need to get used to their new home but not all at once. Too overwhelming! We also make sure that the level of the soil in the tree bag is the same level as the surrounding level of the ground or maybe a titch lower. This protects the roots. We also pile up a little berm of the native soil around the trees so the water stays put and doesn’t run away.

The forklift didn’t get all the soil out of the ground and didn’t make perfect holes so we had to dig some by hand. We watered the holes a bit after the soil was ripped by the tractor. This made it easier to dig.

The forklift punctures a hole in the ground but it takes manual labor to remove the rest of loose dirt.
Photo by Renée Benoit

After the little trees are in the ground we give them a good long drink.

I named this tree “Elvis.”
Photo by Renée Benoit

Spacing and Care

Then for 2 to 3 weeks, water your trees every day. Watch for any signs of dehydration like drooping leaves. Even a little drooping means they’re thirsty! Don’t panic if they droop. Water right away. Just know that a thirsty tree is a stressed tree which then makes it susceptible to insects and disease. Insects are to trees as wolves are to the weak members of the elk herd. Don’t let them prey upon your investment! As a matter of fact, in one of the pots we found a  grub infestation. I would have returned the tree but our nursery was miles away so I got down on my knees and picked the grubs out all the while wishing that I had some chickens to feed the grubs to. Now we cross our fingers that the little tree will make it. Grubs feast on tender roots and can weaken and kill the tree.

Here you see seven of our trees situated where they will eventually provide windbreak and privacy.
Photo by Renée Benoit

Why are they so far apart? These trees will be approximately 20 feet wide and 40 feet tall at maturity. We made sure to set them back far from the power lines. On 4 acres we have plenty of room to do this.

Imagine when Elvis grows up how big and splendid he will be!
Photo courtesy of Nates Nursery

Our pine trees, with loving care, are said to be fast growers so over the years we expect a gain of 3 to 4 feet per year. Isn’t that going to be wonderful? Normally I dislike the passage of time but in this case, I welcome it.


Renée Benoit is a writer, artist, ranch caretaker and dedicated do-it-yourselfer who homesteads a small ranch in the southeast corner of Arizona near the Mexican border. Connect with Renée at RL Benoit, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.


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