Spruce plugs in clear cuts


5 year old buck +
Anybody out there had years of experience with planted spruce seedlings in clear cuts? Will they eventually grow when they are competing with other new growth? I know it's not ideal growing conditions but can it eventually be successful? I planted 500 4A plugs two years ago in a couple of south facing bowls I clear cut. The survival looks good so far though no growth yet. I have not sprayed around them or fertilized. The competing new growth is awesome and I have created the jungles I was hoping for. Just wondering if the spruce can still make it.
I don't know where your at but we planted 300 plugs, blue spruce, about 3 years ago in SW PA. We put fabric around all of them. They have grown about 3 inches in 3 years. We were told they would be slow to get started but they would eventually take off. I might live long enough to see them get to 3 feet. Our survival rate was almost 100% though but they have little competition and they are on our worst soil.
Is it tree regeneration, grass, or annual forest broadleaves? If your spruce lose the sunlight battle over time, it could be a tough proposition. No first hand experience here, but I know you're gonna need sun to win.
I've planted LOTS of Norway & white spruce over the past 18 - 20 yrs. Many of them were in clear - cut areas. I've had about 95% survival and the first 3 years are pretty slow to see growth. The trees need to establish their root systems before they take off. What I have found ( by experimentation ) is that sprinkling some 10-10-10 around them from year 3 on got them growing faster. I had some Norways that weren't doing much after 4 years in the ground. They had plenty of light and were in an area that had ferns & briers. I thought I'd try some fertilizer to see if it did any good. Bingo. They started to grow 12 to 18" / year after that. Each spring ( after 1 or 2 yrs. in the ground to get roots established )
I toss some 10-10-10 around them for the next 5 years or so. After that I stop the fert. because they are big enough to flourish on their own. By year 6 to 8 I usually have a nice 6 ft. tree - maybe taller depending on soil & light.

For best results, you'll need to give them light. They grow fastest with sunlight. If you have an area with a lot of tree regeneration, you may have to keep the other trees cut back until the spruce get big enough to hold their own. I have an area where the spruce are 15 - 20 ft. tall and are getting shaded out by some birch trees. There are tons of birch in that area, so some of them are gonna get cut down to get daylight to the spruce. We want the spruce for a road screen and bedding / thermal cover. The birch will do fine on their own. We have deer nip the very newest growth on spruce occasionally, but not where we need to protect them. Once the spruce get a little bigger ( 4 - 8 ft. ) bucks WILL rub on them. Some of ours got pretty shredded, but they bounced back. They look crappy for a few yrs. with broken tops or limbs, but they come back. Don't give up on them if that happens. I only remember losing about 6 or 8 spruce to bucks rubbing them to death.

If you're planting in a grassy area, I'd spray to kill the grass around the spruce. Grass will really rob nutrients from your trees. Along our field edges, I've found that spraying the grass for the first 6 to 8 yrs. lets the spruce get a good root system and they take off after that period. Then the grass won't hamper them.

To answer your question - " can it ever be successful? " - YES. We have spruce up to 25 ft. tall and still plant more each year. Hope this helps.
Thanks for the responses. My spruce is competing with new trees, shrubs, briars, etc. It's not grasses.
Most of the clear cuts have southern exposure and sun so far but the new growth is by far out pacing the spruce.
Next year will be year 3. BowsnBucks thanks for your recap. Gives me hope. I'll try the fertilizer next spring. So far I have good survival
Rate even during 2 years of drought.
For bare root spruce, I have always had better luck by having some shade on the south side. Leave it in place for about three years and then release the spruce. I will try the same with my plugs, especially on south exposure slopes and lighter or well drained soils.
I have done some but the regrowth smothers them out in a year or two unless you have the trees well marked and can clean out around them each year.
Yep. Gotta keep the competition down. That gets 'em started better.
2 years ago I planted over 1k Norway spruce in a clear cut. No prep or fert. just used a dribble bar and put them in. I have well over 90% survival rate. They are competing with everything else out there which IMO help keep them from burning up. I do not go into that area much as I consider it part of my sanctuary but most have put on 6" or better since planted.
I gotta agree w/ Stu & Tooln on site PREP. I've never pre-cleared a site for planting spruce either. The only thing I did see ( thru trial & error ), was that the first 2 - 3 yrs. nothing much happened as far as growth. But after I tried tossing some 10-10-10 around the spruce, they took off growing well. I've read that the first couple yrs. they are establishing their root systems, so I'm assuming that after they've done that, they absorb the fert. better and are better equipped to take off. I've done the same thing since my first " try " with the 10-10-10 and it gets 'em going faster. Results may vary with your soil type, I suppose. I only put the fert. down for yrs. 2 to 6. After that they pretty much roll on their own.

You don't HAVE to keep weeds, grass, brush cut down around spruce. I've found that it just helps them get kick-started faster. They like sun, so if I see some spruce getting swamped by weeds or ferns, I just spray a little gly. and help 'em out. No big deal.
That's what I did in the beginning, Stu. Compared the trees with vs. without. Good luck with yours.
Well I am optimistic after hearing all of the above experiences. I'm going to plant more this spring.
Just to give you an idea of what I saw here - I had about 8 Norways close to a road. After 3 yrs. in the ground, they were stuck at about 24". No big " push " for new branches. I threw some 10-10-10 around them on the uphill side ( they were planted on a north slope ) so when it rained, the fert. would trickle down into the root zone. In the next 4 yrs. they hit 7 - 8 ft. and are bushy. No need for fert. now. They put on about 18" / yr. now on their own. ( BTW - the soil in that location is sandy, thin mountain ground )
I planted 4a spruce in a hardwood clear cut and they are going to be just fine from the looks of it. April 2015 will be their third year in the ground. I'm not certain how they would do in a clearcut that was previously aspen trees. Especially if it was cleared during the winter. At least that's what a logger told me.