Ask the Steward

Question: On a cold, but sunny January day I heard a loud crack in my woods- someone told me it was a tree frost cracking.  Is this damaging?

Answer: There is nothing quite like the rifle shot sound of a ‘frost crack’ echoing through the woods on a warming winter day.  This cracking most commonly occurs on cold, but sunny winter days.  The warm sun heats the bark and wood directly under the bark causing them to expand.  Meanwhile the wood deeper in the tree does not expand at the same rate and POW! The tree splits and frost cracking occurs- or reoccurs.  Oddly enough the frost and cold does not initiate the initial tree cracking- this usually originates from an old tree wound or poorly healed branch stub.  Once a crack occurs it may open and close several times during the year, or even heal over after many years of callus tissue growth. You may have noticed this in your woods. A frost crack appears as a long vertical seem- often on the south or southwest side of the tree- sometimes with a raised strip of callus or scar tissue along the seam. These cracks can allow an entry point for wood decaying fungi, but generally do not require any treatment in a wooded setting.

Question: The logging job on my property just finished up in early December.  I’d like to
get an early start seeding the log landings this spring. 
Any suggestions?

Answer: While winter is now upon us, the warming spring is just around the corner and prime seeding season is really not far off.  Fresh forest roads, trails, and log landings should be high on your priority list for stabilization and potential habitat development.  Timing, soil chemistry, seed mixtures and seed bed preparation are keys to successful spring plantings—and mother nature’s frost-freeze cycle does much of the work preparing a good seed bed. However, success requires good seed contact with exposed soil.  Fifty percent bare soil is a good threshold.  While exact timing depends on seed mix and local conditions a good rule of thumb for spring seeding in Indiana is March 15 through May 15.  A soil test is recommended to determine lime and fertilization needs. When testing is not practical, but poor fertility is expected a common fall back is 2 tons of agricultural lime and 1,000 pounds of 6-12-12 fertilizer per acre treated. Selecting the desired seeds mix can send your head spinning due to the many choices available.  Rule #1: plant nothing invasive. Rule #2: select a mixture to meet your objectives.  While soil stabilization is of primary concern, many plantings can double up and provide good habitat and wildlife forage. A simple annual grass mix of cool season grasses such as annual ryegrass, wheat and oats may be all you need.  This temporary cover allows naturally occurring forbs and grasses to grow in after the planted annuals fade.  Other options include pollinator mixes, or mixtures more designed for deer and other game species.  A web search for ‘conservation cover planting’ will give you many choices and further guidance to meet your objectives.  As the spring wanes it may be necessary to lightly cultivate the area prior to planting to insure good conditions for seedling germination and survival. Whatever your situation and preferences, winter is the time to set your plans in motion.  Spring is on the way!

Dan Ernst is an Assistant State Forester with the Indiana Division of Forestry. He oversees the state forests in Indiana and has authored the “Ask the Steward” column for years. Have a question for the column? Email Dan at