What to think about before you plant forest
Find out what you should consider before you commit your land to forestry.
On this page:
- Planting trees on your land
- What to think about before you plant forest
- Capabilities of your land
- Talk to your local council before making any decisions
- Find out more
Tree planting can:
- help diversify your income from timber, honey, and carbon credits
- improve the productivity of your land, especially rough areas that don’t grow good pasture
- help soil retention on steep slopes
- provide windbreaks, and shade for livestock
- provide landscape diversity and wildlife habitat
- help combat climate change by absorbing carbon
- help protect the environment
- create jobs.
By planting forest on your land, you may be able to claim carbon credits under the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
There’s a lot to consider when you’re planning to plant trees on your land or grow your own forest:
- Your location.
- The characteristics of your land.
- Your reasons for planting.
These factors will dictate what and where you plant, and how you manage your trees. Good planning will increase your likelihood of success.
Know what you want to achieve from planting trees
Think about why you want to plant, and what you’re hoping to achieve by planting trees. What benefits do you want to get from planting?
Are you aiming to harvest the trees at some point? Are you trying to stabilize erosion-prone land? Are you planting mānuka to generate income from honey ? Do you want to revert some of your land to native forest to improve biodiversity and create habitat for wildlife? Are you trying to enhance water quality on your land by planting along waterways (riparian planting). Or are you trying to reduce carbon emissions?
Knowing why you’re planting should help you identify what and where you should plant.
What to plant
Native (indigenous) plant species are purpose-built for New Zealand's climate but many exotic (non-native) species also do well here.
Planting native species – indigenous to New Zealand
Native (indigenous) trees are important for New Zealand's ecosystem – they provide food and habitat for our native species. If you want to store carbon in trees (otherwise known as sequestering carbon), or provide shade or a windbreak for your paddocks long-term, then native trees may be a good idea.
If you're considering growing native (indigenous) trees for timber, note that:
- they grow very slowly
- there are regulations around the export of native timber and native timber products.
Growing pine trees
Radiata pine (pinus radiata) is the most commonly grown plantation forest species. Radiata timber has a broad range of uses and can be profitable for owners, even in small quantities.
Planting other exotic (non-native) tree species
Other species that grow successfully in New Zealand, include:
- Douglas Fir
It's also possible to grow some deciduous hardwoods in smaller quantities, including:
- European Ash
- Black Locust
Think about whether the benefits you’re hoping to get from planting a forest will match the capabilities of your land. You need to make sure your land is suitable for the type of tree planting you want to do.
Consider the local climate and micro-climates, and the soils, terrain, and geology of your land, along with the optimal growing conditions for the tree species you want to plant.
Talk to neighbours who have forest on their land to see what grows best. Your local plant nursery or garden centre can also provide advice on which trees and plants do well in your area.
Some land will be ideal for growing your own forest. You could plant your new forest:
- on a slope or area of high land that's prone to erosion
- near livestock paddocks that have no natural shelter
- in areas prone to high wind where a break is needed
- in a riparian zone (beside a waterway) – a great way to restrict stock access.
It's better not to plant forests where:
- native vegetation is growing – particularly if you plan to plant pines
- land is classed as ideal for arable or pastoral farming
- land is in an area of significant value.
Know the rules
A number of rules and regulations apply to forests, including the Forests Act (for native forest), the National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry (NES-PF), and the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). And you should always talk to your council before making any decisions.
Location of and access to your land
Not only do logging trucks need good reliable access if you’re eventually planning to harvest, but you also need access from the start for planting and maintenance of your trees. Think about the proximity of the planting site to a public road, and make sure there’s legal access to it.
If you’re planning commercial forestry, you also need to consider the location of your land, including the distance from the nearest port or processing plant. Long-distance transport is expensive and can impact on your profits.
Costs over time
Trees and forests are a long-term investment, and it may be expensive to change your mind once you've started.
Consider the costs of preparing the land, and planting, maintaining and harvesting a forest before you begin. Each of the stages in the lifecycle of a forest has costs associated with it – and some costs will be significant.
You’ll need to properly prepare the site for planting, which involves things like clearing scrub, ferns and woody weeds like gorse or broom and controlling their regrowth, or they could affect the growth of trees. You’ll also need to consider the costs of fencing to keep stock and pests out, and tracking (putting in tracks or roads) to allow easy access to the site. If the area is prone to wilding conifer spread, think about what resources you have to control this.
Sourcing and planting seedlings
Well planned planting is crucial. At the planting stage, know how many seedlings you need to achieve the benefits you want, find the best quality seedlings at the best price (shop around) and place your order well in advance.
You’ll need to secure labour for tree planting, and be able to pay those people. Make sure you secure a planting crew with experience planting the species you’re wanting to establish, as different seedlings need to be handled differently.
You’ll need ongoing inspections and maintenance to keep the development of your forest on track. This includes:
- monitoring seedling mortality and replacing any dead trees
- making sure there’s no nutritional deficiencies in the soil impacting on the health of the trees, and fertilising where necessary
- controlling competing vegetation like gorse and broom
- controlling pests
- thinning and pruning.
Harvesting will typically happen 20 to 40 years after planting for exotics (usually longer for natives), and it’s expensive. You’ll incur costs for things like:
- developing a harvest plan
- building or upgrading roads and landings (designated areas in the forest where trees are further processed, stored, and loaded onto logging trucks)
- the harvest itself, including things like labour, machinery, processing, and transportation.
Harvesting is expensive, but potentially very profitable if you’ve planned and maintained your site and planned operations well.
Local and regional councils are responsible for administering the Resource Management Act and local body regulations. They also keep track of areas of significant value – sections of land that are protected for cultural, historical or ecological reasons and cannot be forested.
Areas of significant value may:
- contain historic pā or burial sites
- be considered tapu
- be controlled by your local iwi
- form a protected habitat for native wildlife (including wetlands).
- Forestry production and trade statistics
- Forestry in the Emissions Trading Scheme
- National Environmental Standard
- Sustainable Farming Fund database – search using the keyword 'forest'
- Taking care of your forest
- Forestry research and reporting database – Climate Cloud
- Land use environmental snapshot report – Ministry for the Environment
- The Resource Management Act (1991) – New Zealand Legislation
- Plan before you plant – Canopy