Stream Tender Magazine

June 2015 Issue

Willow Plants After Three Years of Growth

    After a few years of planting native willow stock along the stream banks of Nose Creek and Bighill Creek, it is nice to see some of the results of those plantings.

    As is the normal case with willow planting on riparian areas that are void of any native plants,  some plants do very well and others are slow to grow. This is a result of soil conditions and natural events such as flooding and droughts.

    In some areas, the plants will grow exceptionally well and after just three years of growth, the plants are quickly developing as

a part of the natural landscape. Soon the crop will stand out above the sedge grass and other existing cover.

    It is also nice to see the first plantings producing seeds for further recruitment of native willow plants, in the natural process. This natural seeding of the stream channel will help areas downstream of the main planting sites recover over time.

    In a few more years, when the plants are tall enough to show up in a photo of a length of stream channel, I will be able to show you some good before and after photos of entire planting sites.

Photos Above and to the left: All of these Plants are growing in Sierra Springs, in the City of Airdrie, Alberta. The plantings were done along the stream banks of Nose Creek. The plants pictured in the photos are three years of growth in an area that has good soil conditions for fast growth.

The Stage One Willow and Tree Plant

    Bow Valley Habitat Development uses both Stage One and Stage Two willow and tree plants for its planting programs. The two stages are comprised of plants that have both root and top development.

    The Stage One plant is the most commonly used plant for the programs. This stage of development has basic top and roots

both growing on the cuttings and it allows the plant a head start in its first growing season.

    The Stage Two is nursed to a more advanced stage of growth and it requires a more timely planting method to insure plant survival.

    Stage Two plants can have new top growth with limbs as long as 40 mm in length.

    The Stage One plants are planted when the new buds have just started to develop new leaves and in some cases very short limb growth.

    For most volunteer group plantings, the Stage Two plants are used so that volunteers can see the plants off to a better start in their first year of growth. With a more prominent  limb growth.

Above: The soil was washed off of this Stage One plant so that you can see the developing root system on the cuttings. This development will get the plant off to a good start in the growing season and by the fall, the limbs will be robust enough to winter over.

Three Years of Growth on Bighill Creek

Three Years of Bank Stabilization is Showing Great Results !

    Having been familiar with the planting sites on the Bighill Creek, in the Town of Cochrane, for more than 50 years, it is great to finally see some positive results for the recovery of the riparian zone along the creek.

    To restore the riparian habitat on areas of the stream that have been void of this type of growth for so many years, says a lot about the efforts of volunteers and their hard work. It hasn’t been an easy task and there are reasons why the restoration sites have not recovered on their own, over the last half of the century, at least.

    Primarily, the soil conditions are too blame. The areas that have been worked on were mined for clay in the early days of the town’s development and this disturbance of the natural soil chemistry is one of the main causes. However, this is about to change.

    Over time, the organics that new willow and tree plants produce will enhance the soil and microbial life along the water’s edge. This will result in a more natural stream side environment and the benefits to bio-diversity will also become apparent in future years. Including more fish and wildlife.


 Using The “Head Start“ Planting System

    Unlike the normal nursery stock of willow plants, the use of cuttings for regenerating riparian areas is the preferred method of planting in the Bow Valley Riparian Program.

   The cuttings allow deep penetration of the soil, so that the root systems are down where the moisture level is, rather than in the upper 8 to 10 inch top soil. This is especially important for willow plants which require good moist soil for development during the growing season.

    Roots will develop on the upper part of the cutting, if there is sufficient moisture for their early stage development, but as the soil dries out they will die off and the deeper roots will maintain the plant.

    By planting willows close to the water’s edge, a new cutting will have a better chance of survival, in soil which maintains moisture throughout the spring and summer months.

    The soil along stream channels benefits from capillary reaction, where the water from the stream is drawn up from the surface level in the elevated stream banks.

    This maintains a permanently moist zone within the planting areas along the streams. This moist zone may drop when there are low stream levels in the creeks, but under normal flows the willows will continue to grow.

    After the first year of growth, the willow plants have established a network of roots that are further reaching and this will insure a better chance of survival even if the moisture levels drop in the stream bank soil.

    The “Head Start” Planting System is also advantageous for collecting native willow stock from the same watershed where the plantings will occur. This insures that the right mix of indigenous plants are used for riparian recovery on a stream.

    Most of the plants that are used in the Bow Valley Riparian Program are those of the Salix family of willow plants. Many of this variety of willow plant are hard to find if you shop at the local tree nursery, so collecting them from the watershed is the best approach for a successful planting program.