Planting trees in a more sustainable and efficient manner

Without adequate maintenance, a large part of newly planted or seeded trees will die. This maintenance is expensive and still makes use of unsustainable techniques such as herbicides, fossil fuels or petroleum-based products, and large volumes of water. However, recent scientific and technical advances have resulted in more sustainable and efficient techniques with increased success rates in tree planting, while reducing or even avoiding maintenance costs. These techniques can be applied in a vast range of plantations schemes, both at household and professional level. The aim of the SustAffor project (Bridging effectiveness and sustainability in afforestation / reforestation in a climate change context: new technologies for improving soil features and plant performance) is to design, produce, develop and validate on-field novel techniques to improve tree planting projects from an environmental, technical and economic point of view. The novel techniques to be developed aim at mitigating the negative effect of temporary water scarcity and competitive vegetation resulting in the failure of a young tree in the current context of irregular water availability and climate change. These techniques include two different approaches:
  • Innovative mulching materials: soil covers impeding weed development and reducing soil water evaporation in the area occupied by tree roots during the first years of the plantation. The prototypes to be developed during the project, both built in Europe, are either 100% biodegradable or reusable in successive plantations. These techniques aim at being a feasible alternative to the recurrent application of herbicides or mechanical weeding, and to petrol-based mulches.
  • Innovative soil conditioners: mix of different products improving soil conditions in the soil volume occupied by tree roots during the first years: hydro-absorbent polymers (that absorb water during wet periods and release it during dry periods), fertilizer, root growth precursors, etc. During the project an improved formulation of this technology will be produced, aiming at being an alternative to emergency water applications.

Participating SMEs

  • D.T.C. (Belgium): expert in the fabrication of specialized plastic and bio-plastic products by mould injection; during Sustaffor this SME will develop a prototype of 100% biodegradable mulching disk based on a biopolymer formulation
  • La Zeloise NV (Belgium): company working on natural fibre products, especially recycled jute, treated with innovative finishing techniques for enhanced properties. During the project, La Zeloise NV will develop a 100% biodegradable mulch made with woven jute cloth treated with furan bio-based resin
  • EcoRub bvba (Belgium): SME producing agro-forestry auxiliary products based on recycled rubber, coming from worn-out tyres and conveyor belts. This company will develop a long-lasting mulching mat, reusable in successive tree plantation projects
  • TerraCottem Internacional SL (Spain): developer and distributor of the TerraCottem® soil conditioning technology, a proprietary mixture of polymers, fertilizers, growth precursors and carrier material that is unique for its synergetic effect; this technique stimulates plant growth, increases the capability of soils and growing media to retain and provide water and nutrients to the plants and reduces the amount of water necessary to create high-quality plants and turf. During the project this SME will develop a new formulation of this technology, with a new high-performance polymer
  • Terrezu SL (Spain): this company has a vast experience on the implementation of innovative and sustainable solutions for landscaping and forest restoration in Southern Europe. During Sustaffor this company will coordinate SMEs activities and will advice on the potential of the novel techniques in Mediterranean and mountain conditions
  • Ceres International Sp. z.o.o. (Poland): an SME commercializing innovative products for horticultural, forest and nursery sectors in central and Eastern Europe. This company will advise on technical requirements and commercialization potential of the novel techniques in central and Eastern European markets

Project coordinator and director of scientific and technical activities:

Centre Tecnològic Forestal de Catalunya (CTFC, Spain)

Other research partners:

  • the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS, France) will study the biochemical changes in soil organic matter in the field trials;
  • CENTEXBEL will study the resistance and degradability of the novel techniques
  • EDMA Innova (Spain) will participate in the environmental monitoring of field trials
The novel techniques to be developed during the project will be evaluated independently and combined (mulch + soil conditioner), and compared with the current best available techniques applied for the same purpose. The field trials will be implemented in four strongly contrasted conditions in Northeast Spain representing many of European and Mediterranean conditions: Semi-arid, Mediterranean-continental, Mediterranean-humid and Subalpine. Moreover, an in-depth evaluation of the techniques under controlled conditions will be performed in a nursery. This project is financed by the 7th Framework Programme of the European Union, through the “Capacities – Research for SMEs” call.

Project website:
Project funding:
European Commission Research & Innovation