Why use bioChar when transplanting saplings

This week we planted 77 saplings to in-fill gaps in ‘coppice I’.

Being charcoal makers we asked ourselves the obvious question should we add our Pure bioChar when transplanting the saplings? Having done some research, taken advice and using our own knowledge the answer was a very loud ‘YES!’

We removed all the conifer from ‘coppice I’ three years ago, leaving the straggly broadleaves that would remain standing behind and coppicing those we could tell would fall. Over the next couple of years it has been exciting to see the area gradually populate itself by natural regeneration. I am sure if we continued to wait it would eventually have completed the process by itself. However, we need to make a living from the woodland so we gave nature a helping hand.

Fungi plays a key role in the woodland ecosystem. Understanding it’s function helps improve tree health and growth – vital for a woodland restoration project like ours. Nearly all fungal activity carries on beneath the forest floor. Hidden from view there is a vast network called the mycelium, made up of fungal threads (hyphae) – think ‘Home Tree’ from the film Avatar! The vast majority of land plants have mycorrhizas (from the Greek mykes: fungus and rhiza: root), and many plants could not survive without them. Mycorrhizal partnerships are symbiotic, or mutually beneficial, relationships between plants and fungi, which take place around the plant’s roots.

To understand more about the role of mycorrihizal fungi in the woodland ecosystem visit The Tree for Life website.

It was based on this knowledge that we opted for cell grown saplings rather than bare-rooted ones. The saplings would already have started to establish their mycorrhizal relationships within the plug that would remain with them when they were transplanted. We brought our saplings from Exmoor Trees. Tim Greenland who runs the tree nursery advised we used RootgrowTM, endorsed by the Royal Horticultural Society.

When I looked on the RootgrowTM website the benefits of using it vital echoed all the benefits of using biochar. And of course it’s obvious why – biochar with its vast surface area and porous structure provides the perfect habitat for beneficial microbes and fungi to live and thrive.

Further investigation found a plethora of research papers on using biochar for tree growth and transplanting. If you’d like to do more research then this one is probably a good place to start.

In simply terms, according to the research, the benefits to using biochar when transplanting saplings are;

Moisture retention

improved disease resistance

Increased plant growth

Increase root colonisation and abundance of mycorrhizal fungi

Improvement in transplant survival rate.

How we used Pure bioChar when transplanting our saplings.

  • Mix up the RootgrowTM as stated on the instructions. It will form a wallpaper paste consistency.
  • Add 1 Litre of charged Pure bioChar high grade and stir in.(Full instructions are available on our bioChar page on our website)
  • Leave for several hours or overnight. This give the biochar time to be ‘charged’ with the mycorrhizal fungi.
  • Using our specially crafted planting tool, created a small hole approx 1cm deeper than the tree plug.
  • Dipped the tree plug into the Pure bioChar / Rootgrow mix.
  • Carefully place it in the hole, heel in and cover with mud to top of hole.

When we explain what bioChar is, people often tell us ‘I don’t need to use it because after I’ve had a burn up I mix the remains into the soil’ However, just as ‘all that glitters is not gold’ all that is black and burnt is not bioChar! Biochar has undergone a controlled processes of pyrolysis and carbonization, whereas the remnants from a fireplace or wood-stove are the result of incomplete combustion.

Fireplace remnants break down very quickly in the soil, releasing carbon, compared to biochar. The billions of biochar micro-pores that attract air, water and nutrients do not exist in such remnants. And it is these micro-pores that bring all the benefits of using bioChar.

Another interesting fact I discovered was that mycorrhizal fungi can be destroyed or damaged by soil compaction as well as the use of certain chemicals. Therefore, organic methods and low impact forestry methods such as timber extraction using horses help to maintain the integrity of the soil! Another feather in the cap for Courage Copse Creatives! and now growing evidence that biochar helps promote disease resistance in tress, particularly when Larch disease and Ash Die-back are sweeping the country.

I always find it heartening that an intuitive approach to woodland management, a hunch, a feeling that ‘this must be right’ is nearly always backed up by scientific research and fact. Even if you do found out about it weeks, months or even years later!