Sponsored By
Nebraska Farmer Logo

Manage woodlands with crop tree thinningManage woodlands with crop tree thinning

Farmstead Forest: Selecting valuable trees that you want to keep and removing competition trees will improve forest health.

Curt Arens

October 28, 2021

3 Min Read
trees and woodlands
THIN IT OUT: Walk your woodlands and identify trees of value for timber, wildlife, firewood or some other value that you want to keep. Consider removing trees that are competing with those value trees.Curt Arens

If you are one of the fortunate landowners to have woodlands on your farm or ranch, you know that to fully realize the benefits of those woodlands, it takes management.

The woodlands are just like any other crop. How you manage woodlands depends on your goals. You may manage strictly for wildlife or hunting opportunities. Perhaps you are managing for lumber, veneer or firewood markets, or personal use.

Either way, crop tree thinning is one method of management that allows landowners to harvest specific trees for different purposes and improve the woodlands at the same time.

University of Minnesota Extension has a great website that covers several woodland management and thinning methodologies. According to a bulletin written by Eli Sagor, UM Extension forester, crop tree thinning “involves carefully maximizing the growing space available to the stand’s best trees.”

It is a great method to use when you are cutting firewood from your woodlands, but it has benefits for a diversity of goals for woodland management.

The UM information calls for landowners to first walk through the woodland stand to identify trees with the greatest potential future value. In this case, value doesn’t necessarily mean timber. It could mean den trees for wildlife, a rare tree species that grows in your woods, or a tree that offers particularly vivid fall color, as well as trees you want to harvest in the future.

You decide which trees have value for your own purposes. These trees of value, whether they are marketable timber trees or of other value, should be flagged with flag tape, spray paint or some other way of identifying them.


The next step is to identify the competing trees around these trees that you have deemed valuable. “To identify competing trees, don’t look down,” the UM bulletin states. “Look up at the crowns.” Any tree with a crown that is touching the crown of your valuable trees is the competition. These competing trees can be considered for removal. Be careful not to overdo it.

If all trees around your value trees have been growing together for many years, taking those trees away all at once may cause shock to the value trees. Sagor asks landowners to consider a multistage approach that removes competing trees over a period of several years. Then, you will need to monitor the woodland for crown closure after thinning, and for the health of your value trees over time.

In my own small woodland, we have invasive trees such as mulberry that threaten to take over old stands of silver maple, cottonwood, hackberry, wild plum, and a few ash and elm. While the mulberry trees are understory for the most part, they compete for sunlight and moisture for any new growth of the more desirable trees in my grove. I have been thinning the mulberry trees heavily, and still leaving just a few for fruit and wildlife, over the past several years.

While my woodland is not large, and it is not a great producer of firewood, it has value to me for a little firewood, wildlife and aesthetics on the farm, so the trees I consider valuable may be different than those you consider valuable. Ultimately, it is up to the landowner to decide.

However, the idea of crop tree selection and thinning less-desirable trees to improve your woodland, however large or small, can offer one method to reaching your goals for the woodland over time and encourage growth of those trees that you see as valuable.

Learn more online at extension.umn.edu.

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like