Poplars and willows for erosion control

Support for landowners - soil conservation initiatives

Northland Regional Council, as part of its soil conservation initiatives, offers a limited number of poplar poles and willow material each winter to help prevent and control erosion in Northland. 

Council has now implemented a policy requiring eligible landowners to pay for their poles up-front, with a rebate of up to 50% after a follow-up visit confirms their planting has been undertaken and planting plan advice followed. Priority is given to applicants in areas the council has identified as having a high erosion risk.

Why use poplars and willows?

Poplars and willows are exotic fast-growing species ideally suited to both prevent and control erosion, due to their extensive and deep root network. Current varieties distributed via regional councils and private nurseries have been selected and developed in New Zealand over decades to promote desirable characteristics of erosion control, fodder, decreased palatability to possums, drought tolerance and even timber. Problematic traits such as vigorous suckering, brittleness of timber, and poor growth form have largely been eliminated.

How do I qualify for poplars and willows?

The plant material is provided to the recipients if they agree to have a farm environment plan or specific planting plan produced for their erosion issue. They also must agree to maintain the planted trees, including protecting them from damage by stock, ensuring they remain firm in the ground and pruning and thinning them in future years so that they continue to perform their intended soil conservation function.  

Numbers are limited so in order not to miss out, a planting plan and orders must be in place before harvest season (May). 

Interested individuals, groups and organisations from the Northland region are encouraged to contact the poplar & willow nursery team to indicate their requirements.

Planting advice

To help you get started, visit the Poplar & Willow Research Trust website to find a series of videos providing information ranging from site selection, planting and managing poplars.

When it comes to planting your poplar and willows poles, getting things right at the beginning will give you the best results in the long term. 


In Northland, the best time of year to plant poplar and willow poles is during the winter months of June and July. Remember to plan ahead and allow a few months for ordering, delivery and creating a planting plan. If you are interested in ordering poles for this season, then contact the poplar & willow nursery team.  

It's best to plant before any erosion occurs – prevention is better than cure. After an erosion event it can take up to 20 years for an area to recover, but never to the level of pre-erosion. A little foresight can save a lot of time and effort in the long run, and prevent loss of production. 

Stream-side planting

Willow plantings can be used to help stabilise stream banks, as their fibrous root systems help knit and bind the banks. Poplars should be planted a little further back from the edge of the bank. 

Planting densities range from one to 20 metres apart with consideration given to the severity of the erosion and long-term maintenance.  

It's important to think before you plant – your poplar and willow poles will develop into large trees so placement is key. If planted too close to the stream (with the exception of shrubby willow) the trees can, over time, become too heavy and collapse, causing further erosion. 

A good rule of thumb is to set willow planting back at least three metres from the edge of your bank, with poplars further back. 

Planting hill slopes

Poplars are perhaps the best species for stabilising unstable hillsides and slips, and it's best to tackle erosion early. 

When planting on hill slopes:

  • For gentle slopes, space plants at 10-12 metre spacings
  • On steeper slopes, use 5-6 metre spacings
  • For earthflows, slumps and slips, plant poles at 5-10 metre spacings, using closer spacings at the toe of the slope and wider spacings towards the head
  • Avoid planting on ridges or high spots as the trees can be damaged by high winds
  • Choose the best site for each pole – look for depressions and low spots, small channels where water flows or pools as these are spots where erosion is likely to occur and where poles will thrive
  • Avoid exposed windy sites – instead plant part way down the slope at 8-10 metre spacings. 

Gully planting

Willows are perhaps best for controlling gully erosion, but poplars also have their place. It really depends on the type and size of gully erosion you are trying to control. 

It's best to plant poplar or willows poles in pairs. Pair-planting causes the trees' root systems to overlap across the gully, preventing further down-cutting of the gully bottom and slumping of the sides. 

Using protective sleeves

Before you start planting, put protective sleeves on your poplar or willow poles – this increases the survival rate of the poles and makes it difficult for possums to climb them. Made from recycled plastics, the sleeves also protect the poles from stock damage and reduce moisture loss. 

There are a couple of options available for use. Sleeves are available from the regional council – contact a poplars & willows team member on 0800 002 004

On a three metre pole, slide the sleeve on at the butt end and make sure the bottom of the sleeve is 60-70cm from the butt end. Some sleeves are designed to split and fall away as the tree grows – if this doesn't happen, remove the sleeves carefully when they become too tight. 

Poplars with protective sleeves.Sleeved kawa poplars helping stabilise a pastoral hillside.

Keep stock out

It is best practice to exclude cattle or stock from planted areas for at least 12-18 months to allow time for root development. Cattle rubbing or scratching up against the poles will cause root damage and the likely death of your pole. Sheep and goats can also ring bark new plantings.

Land management advisors are available to offer advice on:

  • Siting and planting plans
  • Existing tree identification
  • Crack willow eradication removal advice
  • Replacement advice for existing trees in sensitive areas
  • Mixed poplar/willow/native plantings.

Find the contact details below 

Dynex© tree protector sleeve sales

Dynex© Tree protector sleeves designed to protect against stock and possum damage are available for purchase and are not subsidised. These are available in 1.7m lengths and are made of recycled plastic with easy-tear perforations that split for removal as the trees grows. Please indicate that you require sleeves with you pole order. Check current pricing for these when ordering your poplar and willow poles as this is subject to change.

Do I need tree protector sleeves?

A frequently asked question is, do all pole plantings require sleeves? The simple answer is no. If for example you plant poles behind a fence and stock are excluded and provided the poles are planted firmly in the ground, your chances of pole survival will be high. Other considerations for sleeves are whether possum numbers are high in your area? Could sheep or goats have access? A few of the benefits of sleeves are listed below.

Benefits of Dynex Sleeves

  • Poles are less susceptible from rubbing by light stock, however its best to exclude any stock except sheep for the first 2-3 years of establishment.
  • Smooth enclosed sleeve deters possums climbing up.
  • Deflects light debris during floods.
  • Bark cannot be chewed by stock, sheep or goats.
  • Conserves moisture in pole during dry months

Harvested poplar polesHarvested poplar poles ready for planting. 

Poplar and willow nursery 

In response to increasing demand for locally produced plant material, the regional council established its own poplar and willow nursery to support the soil conservation and water quality improvement programmes. Initial work began in 2011 following the closure of the Hunters' Stix poplar nursery located at Parakao, Mangakahia Valley.

Rows of poplars and willows.A row of kawa poplars (left) and matsudana willows (right).

Site development and planting of rootstock began in winter 2013 with the planting of the first block.  Since then council has established plantings each winter and the nursery now covers approximately 13 hectares, working towards covering an area of 20 hectares.

It takes three years to produce 3m poplar poles to council specifications from cuttings. After the first harvest poles require two years to reach specifications for harvest.

A selection of willows has also been grown to cater for hillside, gully and stream bank stabilisation. These will be available in a range of sizes from 3m tree willows poles down to 1m shrubby willows stakes.

For more information about poplars and willows

Interested individuals, groups and organisations are encouraged to contact: 

Poplars & Willows Nursery Team
Northland Regional Council
Phone: 0800 002 004
Email: nursery@nrc.govt.nz

Erosion prone land - support for landowners