Home Lifestyle COLUMN: The family who plants together, grows together

COLUMN: The family who plants together, grows together

J.A. Bolton

On the first weekend in March, our immediate family came together to surprisingly plant pine trees.

Having around 30 acres of timber clear-cut around my house, it was time to start replanting for future generations. Plus, trees are good for soil erosion and our atmosphere.

Sure, I’ll never see these longleaf and shortleaf pines mature, but hopefully, my family will.

To get the seedlings, my daughter contacted the N.C. Forest Service plant nursery in Goldsboro. She ordered one box each of containerized longleaf and shortleaf pine seedlings which averaged costing about $60 per box. Each box held about 330 seedlings and would be delivered to our local station on U.S. 1 in Rockingham.

Through our research, we found that the best time to plant your pine trees is from late December through the middle of March. This helps the seedlings to get established before the weather turns hot.

The trees need to be planted about 10 feet apart in rows about 12 feet apart. An acre of land should be planted with between 400-600 trees.

To plant these trees by hand, you use a tool called a dibble bar. You can use a shovel or a grubbing hoe, but believe me, a dibble bar is the way to go.

So, what is a dibble bar? It is a tool made with all steel, a T-handle on one end, and a sharp spade blade on the other. Welded right above the blade is a steel bar to place your foot on. This helps drive the tool into the ground.

To use this tool correctly, you place the blade into the ground at about a 45-degree angle. Then press down with your foot until the depth of the blade is in the ground. Push forward and then pull the tool backwards, allowing it to make a V-style hole in the ground. Remove the tool and place a seedling in the hole. Place the dibble bar blade into the ground about 3 to 4 inches from the seedling, straight up and down, and push forward toward the seedling. This allows the dirt to be packed at the bottom of the hole to avoid having an air pocket. Then pack the dirt around the top of the seedling with your foot and leave the top of the tree as straight as possible. Now, my friend, you have planted your first pine tree. 

The depth you plant the tree is critical. Dig the hole just deep enough to allow the top of the root system to be at ground level. Digging too shallow a hole will cause the tree roots to be jammed up, causing what they call a “J-root,” which is not good for the growth of the tree.


While planting our trees, my family split up into three teams. One person used the dibble bar and the other dropped the seedling in the hole. I didn’t have but two bars, so my grandson and I used a pipe shovel and I think we got the worse end of the deal (a little more back work.) Before we got through, I was glad that we ordered only two boxes of seedlings.

Planting these trees reminded me when I was much younger and planting our tobacco. We would already have our fields ready to plant and would have started pulling plants from our tobacco bed early in the morning. The only thing different from planting trees was that we used a tobacco setter and gallons of water.

Both planting trees and setting tobacco can cause your body to use between 5,000 to 7,000 calories per day. This is two to three times the average person’s recommended calorie intake. So, when dinner or supper rolls around, you can put away some grub, plus drink several glasses of iced tea.

Our family planted about an acre and a half of trees that day, far short of the 30acres we needed to plant our cut-over land. But certainly, there were no high ballers (a planter who consistently plants the most trees in the shortest amount of time) in our group that day. 

We were not getting paid by the plant, even though some of the new trees were given names. We were just enjoying time together as a family and getting a little work done at the same time.

If you would like to plant or order some young trees, contact your local forestry service — and don’t forget to buy yourself a dibble bar.

J.A. Bolton is author of “Just Passing Time,” co-author of “Just Passing Time Together,” and just released his new book “Southern Fried: Down-Home Stories,” all of which can be purchased on Amazon. Contact him at ja@jabolton.com.