Original Articles

Regional vegetation management standards for commercial Eucalyptus plantations in South Africa


Abstract

During the 1990s a number of trials were implemented in the summer-rainfall region of South Africa to determine both the short- and long-term impacts of competing vegetation on eucalypt growth. Trial sites were selected across different physiographic regions such that a range of altitudinal, climatic and environmental gradients were represented. Although the understanding gained from these trials allowed for the development of vegetation management standards, their operational and economic viability needed to be tested on a commercial basis. Five eucalypt trials were thus initiated to test the applicability of these standards when utilised on a commercial scale. One of the trials was situated at a lower-altitude site (65 m above sea level [asl]), two at mid-altitude sites (878 and 1 262 m asl), and two at higher-altitude sites (1 469 and 1 590 m asl). Several vegetation management treatments developed to suit the predicted vegetation load at each site were implemented and varied according to either weeding intensity (high, moderate and low), or the area around the tree that was kept free of vegetation (no vegetation control, a row weeding and complete vegetation control). Following tree crown closure at each trial, tree growth was linked to the level of vegetation management in each treatment and its associated total cost up to canopy closure, allowing for the development of different cost-benefit comparisons. The intensity of vegetation management required to produce significant growth benefits decreased with increasing altitude, as did the area that needed to be kept free from competing vegetation. In contrast to the two higher-altitude sites, where tree growth did not benefit from vegetation management, a significant increase in tree growth occurred for the high- and moderate-intensity vegetation management operations at the three mid- and lower-altitude sites. Besides demonstrating the commercial applicability of research results, this series of trials has shown that site-dependent vegetation management is viable on a commercial scale and will allow the South African forest industry to adjust their weed control budgets on a regional basis (linked to altitude).

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