Thin Your Pine Stand

Dense planted pines
These dense planted pines will need thinning soon.

Do you have a pine stand that’s around 10-15 years old? Wondering what the next step is in managing the stand? Read on.

At this point in the rotation the pines may soon be reaching the size at which they could be merchantable for small-diameter wood products, like pulpwood. When pulpwood markets are favorable, a complete stand harvest within 15 to 20 years may be possible and may bring an acceptable return. However, a longer rotation can bring higher financial returns on larger diameter trees if you are willing to begin thinning the stand very soon. Pine sawtimber, poles, and/or plylogs are most often the forest products with the highest value. If economic returns are a priority, these are the most desirable products to come out of a timber stand. Timberland owners who wish to harvest high-value sawtimber-, plylog-, or pole-sized products at the end of the rotation should consider thinning a necessity.

Thinning can also greatly enhance the wildlife habitat value of the stand. Thinning out some trees will allow light to reach the forest floor, promoting important herbaceous food plants for both game and nongame wildlife.

Time to Thin Your Pines

Thinning is a partial tree harvest in an immature stand to maintain or accelerate diameter growth of the remaining trees. If it is done properly, thinning can bring substantially higher revenues when trees are harvested at 25 to 40 or more years of age. Depending on the site and pine species, the trees will respond to thinning best if they are thinned before 16 or 17 years of age.

Leave the Best, Cut the Worst

The increased diameter growth after thinning results from the greater availability of light, water, and nutrients to the remaining trees. The tallest, most healthy trees should be retained to assure the most rapid increase in timber value. Remove trees that are overtopped, crooked, forked, diseased or otherwise undesirable. These trees are only taking up space and resources that could be used by the best trees.

Thinning Can Bring Many Benefits

Thinned pine stand
This thinned pine stand is yielding increased economic and habitat benefits.

For the landowner, thinning can bring:

  • increased return on investment from the sale of higher-value forest products;
  • periodic income from the multiple harvests that lead to higher-value forest products;
  • improved access for equipment, people, and wildlife;
  • a healthy, vigorous forest with less risk of insect infestation, destructive fire, and wind damage; and
  • enhanced wildlife habitat with increased herbaceous ground cover.
Additional Resources on Thinning

For more information about thinning and methods see Thinning Southern Pines—A Key to Greater Returns at

Also consider Marking First Thinnings in Pine Plantations: Potential for Increased Economic Returns:

Time to Thin
Watch our Forest Stewardship short video: “Time to Thin”





Posted: July 19, 2018

Category: Conservation, Forests, NATURAL RESOURCES

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