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Managing Hardwoods 

state of arkansas with natural divisions
Natural Divisions of Arkansas.

Arkansas contains six natural divisions: Ozarks, Ouachitas, Arkansas River Valley, Coastal Plain, Mississippi Alluvial Valley or Delta, and Crowley's Ridge (The Natural Divisions of Arkansas, by the Arkansas Heritage Commission). Within and between these natural divisions exists a large and amazingly diverse hardwood forest resource.

Almost three quarters of Arkansas' total forest resource is comprised of hardwood forest types. These forest types include both bottomland and upland hardwood forests.

The bottomland forests are located in the Delta, Arkansas River Valley, and minor stream bottoms within other natural divisions. The upland hardwood forests are primarily located across the Ozark and Ouachita Divisions, with pure hardwood and mixed pine/hardwood forests occurring in the Coastal Plain division.

A final, unique upland forest exists in the Crowley's Ridge natural division. Crowley's Ridge is a small but interesting geographical area located in the Delta but exhibiting elevations up to 200 feet higher than the Delta division and containing hardwood tree species not native anywhere else in the state (including: tulip poplar and white walnut).

Arkansas'' hardwood forests have historically been composed of oaks, along with hickories, maples, ashes and other tree species and have provided a resource that has been important to humans and wildlife for multiple uses. Hardwood forests are especially important in their ability to meet multiple objectives for management, including: 

  • Timber
  • Wildlife
  • Recreation
  • Environmental quality
  • Aesthetics

Harvested oak logs

Oak Timber is a Valuable Resource.

Photo by Kyle Cunningham, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Pileated Woodpecker

Hardwood Forests Provide Important Wildlife Habitat.

Photo by Kyle Cunningham, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Hickory Fall Color

Hardwood Forests have High Aesthetic Value.

Photo by Kyle Cunningham, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Hiking in the Ouachitas

Arkansas Forests Provide Many Recreational Opportunities.

Photo by Kyle Cunningham, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

The oak forests are aging across the state. A result of these "aging" forests can be a decline in the health, vigor, and value of the resource. Additionally, previous management (or lack of management) and reduced role of fire has resulted in a need for management operations that will help restore the now shrinking oak component present in many hardwood stands in both bottomland and upland forests.

Managing hardwood forests with an emphasis on the presence of oak species can be a challenge. Management operations to maintain healthy hardwood forests with oak as a component of existing stands include:

    1. Prescribed fire
      • Cool season fires and proper timing are critical.
    2. Herbicide applications
      • Herbicides can help control competing unacceptable species for management.
    3. Thinnings
      • Retaining healthy overstory oak trees with large crowns through the end of a rotation.
      • Partial thinnings should not remove all the healthy, higher value trees (termed "high grading").
    4. Regeneration harvests
      • Regeneration harvests are designed to remove the merchantable trees present and establish new seedlings for the future.

Keys to success in managing existing stands:

    1. Maintain more "open" stands that allow sunlight to penetrate to the ground.
    2. Reduce number of small-size non-oak competitors
    3. Maintain well spaced, large crowned, healthy overstory trees to provide seed crops for future forests.
    4. Perform seedling counts to ensure large oak seedlings are present to replace forest stands scheduled for a regeneration harvest.
    5. Schedule final harvest or harvests based on the seedling count evaluations. If large oak seedlings are not present before a final harvest is conducted, the regenerated forest may not adequately meet management goals for timber, wildlife, and other objectives.
tall hardwood trees
Partial harvests that leave large trees with large crowns help provide acorns and proper sunlight for oak seedling establishment.

Photo by Kyle Cunningham, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

tractor removing tree limbs
Removing small, low value pulpwood trees to favor larger, higher value trees should be the focus of thinnings.

Photo by Kyle Cunningham, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture

forest fire
Prescribed burning can be a valuable management tool in hardwoods, when properly employed. 

Photo by Kyle Cunningham, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture

green oak leaves
Establishing large oak reproduction is essential in managing for a future stand of oaks.

Photo by Kyle Cunningham, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture

When managed properly, hardwood stands can be an outstanding resource to meet multiple management objectives. However, decision-making can be difficult for hardwood forests. Pursuing the advice of a professional forester (with hardwood management experience) can be a very smart choice that will help ensure a forest legacy is maintained for future generations.

Fact Sheets for Management of Existing Stands:

Evaluating the Management Potential of Upland Hardwood Stands 
Using Natural Regeneration to Promote Oaks in Upland Hardwoods 
A Landowner's Guide to Field Grading Hardwood Trees

Thousands of acres are planted each year with hardwood seedlings. These plantings most often occur on abandoned agricultural fields or "old fields". There are several federal cost share programs (administered by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency) that promote these plantings on marginally productive agricultural fields. These programs include:

    1. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
    2. Wetland Reserve Program (WRP)
    3. Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP)
    4. Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program (WHIP)

There are many considerations when planning to plant seedlings (termed: artificial regeneration), including:

    1. What are the objectives for the new forest stand?
    2. What do values I want to get from the new forest?
    3. What tree species will help achieve these objectives?
    4. What tree species will grow well on the site?
    What type of work will be necessary to prepare an area for planting?
    1. Soils
    2. Competing vegetation
    3. What type of seedlings should I purchase?
      • Size
      • Bare root, containerized, etc...
    4. Where should I purchase seedlings?
      • Public or private nurseries
      • What post planting operations will be necessary to ensure survival of the planted seedlings?

Proper planning prior to purchasing and planting hardwood seedlings can make the difference between successful survival and growth rates and planting failures (which are costly). The first two years (primarily year 1) of a hardwood planting will dictate whether it is successful in the years to come. Getting help from a professional forester is almost always a good idea to ensure success when planting hardwood seedlings.

working on tractor in field
Machine planting hardwoods on an old field.

Photo by Kyle Cunningham, U of A System Division of Agriculture.


field with rows of plant seedlings
Site preparation is essential prior to planting hardwood seedlings.

Photo by Kyle Cunningham, U of A System Division of Agriculture

oak leaf turning colors in the fall
Oak seedling after a growing season.

Photo by Kyle Cunningham, U of A System Division of Agriculture


The Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station has several research forests located around the state. Research and Extension faculty work to develop demonstration areas for forest landowner education. There is a diversity of hardwood project areas, including:

state of arkansas experiment station forest locations
Arkansas Forest Resources Center research forests locations.
    1. Hardwood natural regeneration
    2. Hardwood artificial regeneration
    3. Thinning operations
    4. Prescribed fire as a management method
    5. Herbicide usage in hardwood management
    6. Oak ecosystem restoration
    7. Managing hardwood forests for wildlife

Workshops, field tours, and other trainings are conducted annually at research stations across the state. Forest landowners are encouraged to attend these very informative, hands on educational programs (see calendar of events or check with your county Extension agent). County Offices

people learning about hardwood management methods
Presentation on Hardwood Management.







people watching hardwood logs being removed
Field Tour of a hardwood harvesting operation on a U of A research forest.




Research and Extension Stations




Competition Control in Hardwood Stands 

Other Resources