Comparing reforestation methods: natural, manual, drone and hydroseeding

September 8, 2023

Forest ecosystem restoration can be successfully achieved with a thorough understanding of the reforestation methods available. It is fundamentally important to know the specific needs of each site (level of degradation, local ecosystems, budget, etc.).

A range of strategies are available, from traditional hand planting to more technical approaches such as the use of drones and hydroseeding. Each of these methods responds to unique constraints, involving specific supplies and precise dosages, exerting a significant impact on the efficiency of operations and associated costs.

By examining the advantages and disadvantages of each approach - from costs, to the time invested in research and development, to the human resources required, to the integration of cutting-edge technologies - this article will guide you through the maze of crucial choices to consider when planning reforestation initiatives.

Natural restoration

Natural ecosystem restoration, or regeneration, refers to the process of restoring or regenerating a degraded or damaged ecosystem by allowing natural forces to act, without direct human intervention.

It gives way to the natural processes of ecological succession, whereby plant and animal communities evolve over time in a predictable and often cyclical sequence, leading to a more mature and stable state.

Natural restoration is appropriate in situations where direct human impacts have been reduced, sources of natural regeneration are present and ecological processes are still operating. However, it is crucial to emphasize that, in the face of the climate emergency, this method cannot be considered sufficient. In some cases, natural restoration may prove slow and unable to guarantee full recovery, particularly where human disturbance has been considerable or invasive species have altered ecological balances. In order to scale up, bolder and more active measures are needed to accelerate ecosystem regeneration.

To remember:

  • Price: -
  • No labor or soil preparation costs
  • Long method
  • High risk of ecological imbalance
  • Monitoring is recommended to ensure the proper growth of the forest ecosystem.

Manual planting

Reforestation by manual planting involves the deliberate establishment of trees and plant species in a targeted area. It involves direct human intervention, with workers planting saplings in the ground.

Hand planting is one of the most commonly used methods of reforestation. When properly managed, manual planting can make a significant contribution to conserving biodiversity and combating environmental degradation:

  1. High survival rates: well-planned hand planting ensures optimum adaptation of young trees through careful soil preparation and initial watering, increasing the chances of success.
  2. Economic and environmental impact: Hand planting, often involving local communities, creates jobs and raises awareness of biodiversity conservation, reinforcing the commitment to ecosystem restoration.
  3. Local adaptability: This method enables precise adaptation to local characteristics such as topography and soil type, thus favoring the choice of appropriate plant species for reforestation.
  4. Invasive species control: Hand planting offers better invasive species control than other methods, thanks to closer management of existing vegetation.

This approach, like all man-made plantations, requires an appropriate selection of plant species according to the ecological and climatic context and the reforestation objectives. It also requires precise knowledge of the site, particularly its soils and topography, to ensure optimal plant establishment.

For its implementation, the manual planting method requires a structure for growing tree seedlings called a nursery, which can sometimes be difficult, time-consuming and more expensive to set up. What's more, the transition from nursery to planting can involve a stressful discontinuity for young trees, due to differences in soil, climatic conditions and handling during transport. Seedlings accustomed to optimal conditions in the nursery may have difficulty adapting to conditions at the planting site, resulting in a lower survival rate.

To remember:

  • Price: ++ for
  • Integrating local players: shared benefits
  • Environmental, economic and social impacts
  • Controlling invasive species
  • Method used by 90% of forest restoration projects
  • Long pre-planting phase
  • Substantial manpower requirements
  • Lower survival rates
  • High human risk on steep terrain

Hydroseeding and hydromulching

Hydroseeding, also known as hydroseeding or hydroseeding, is a seeding method that involves mixing seeds and fertilizers with water before spreading with specialized equipment. This seeding technique enables the establishment of herbaceous vegetation over vast areas, without the need for soil preparation, using unprepared substrates or areas that are difficult to access, such as slopes or earth deposits. Hydroseeding is suitable for areas covered by topsoil with good to average agronomic characteristics. This surface seeding process does not guarantee total seed coverage, so it is essential to carry it out at the optimum time for germination, i.e. just before the rainy season, to avoid seed leaching or flying away.

Hydromulching is an evolution of hydroseeding in which stabilizing agents are added to seeds and fertilizers to temporarily control erosion while vegetation establishes itself. Hydromulching is recommended for sloping areas that are sometimes difficult to access, lack topsoil or are subject to severe climatic and erosion constraints, enabling reseeding at lower cost and without recourse to pesticides.

Both of these similar methods, however, require truck distribution, implying close access to the areas to be restored. They are therefore unsuitable for remote or isolated areas.

To remember (data from Eurotec) :

  • Price : +++
  • Suitable for ground cover, not forest restoration
  • Seed limitation: size, quantity
  • No soil preparation required
  • Low-maintenance
  • Highly effective in erosion control
  • Minimal manpower
  • No structure required
  • Application with no special knowledge required: a few hours' training is all it takes to form a team
  • Cannot be applied everywhere
  • Cannot be implemented at all times of the year

Planting by drone

Drones can be a tool for scaling up on two levels: analysis and planting.

  • In the pre- and post-planting analysis phase, field surveys and high-resolution imagery from drones determine the characteristics of the area, soil and topography. This makes it possible to distinguish existing forest strata, determine the planting plan and accurately monitor forest growth.
  • At planting time, agricultural drones capable of lifting heavy loads disperse seeds according to a flight plan.

The use of drones is up to 5 times less expensive than other restoration methods, not only because of their speed of planting, but also because drone planting avoids the need to structure a nursery and maintain it for several months. A single drone can plant between 37.5 and 120kg of seeds and up to 50 hectares per day, making direct seeding up to 100 times faster than human planting. What's more, for the same total price, MORFO offers analysis, monitoring, our R&D and therefore an increase in the overall quality of the restoration.

Drones can access areas where no human can. For example, in remote areas of the Amazon rainforest, in the Sahel region, in Siberia, in post-fire situations, on steep terrain, where there is a risk of falling, inaccessible or too remote, etc.

Drones also make it possible to plant at the optimum time, i.e. at the start of the rainy season, enabling proper growth and maximizing survival rates.

Discover MORFO drone technology here.

To remember:

  • Price: + (€)
  • Quick and efficient
  • Secure
  • Deployed worldwide
  • No structure required
  • Useful in several phases of restoration, including pre- and post-planting, so can be combined with other restoration methods.
  • Maintenance-free
  • Minimum workforce
  • Innovative, ever-evolving technology: inclusion of AI to increase efficiency
  • Training required: maximum two days for drone flying
  • Proposed by few companies
  • Site preparation strongly recommended
  • Cannot be implemented at all times of the year

Planting by drone with the MORFO solution

For MORFO, drones are a vector for scaling up in the face of the climate emergency and deforestation. But MORFO isn't just about drones!

Our large-scale ecosystem restoration solution is a multi-stage reforestation process that uses a unique blend of agritech, computer vision and drones to reforest tropical and subtropical areas.

  • Forest engineering and seed and seed pod technology seed capsules We understand and study ecosystems on a scale never before possible (in-depth knowledge of ecosystems, plant catalogs, seed selection, laboratory and field analysis, R&D focused on micro-organisms).
  • Ecological monitoring Ecological monitoring: analyses focused on biodiversity and climate change mitigation (surface soil classification, erosion risk analysis, soil segmentation, growth and biodiversity analysis, carbon capture assessment, clear and transparent data restitution with images, maps and key figures, MORFO works with the best scientists and engineers to build and improve its solution).
  • Social impact: Collaboration with local populations (seed collection, land preparation, assistance with planting and monitoring, etc.) creating local value and equitable economic redistribution.
"There are difficulties with implementation and access, difficulties with choosing the right time for planting. All these difficulties are solved thanks to MORFO's technology". - Robin Duponnois, Research Director at IRD

Complementarity between manual and drone planting: the need to collaborate with local players

MORFO restoration projects are often carried out in collaboration with local stakeholders, and include between 10 and 20% hand-planting.

While planting by drone offers undeniable technical advantages and economic impact for the customer and the people who live on site, it's important to stress that MORFO drones are not intended to replace humans.

In every project, human intervention remains crucial at every stage, from site analysis to species selection, site preparation, planting and monitoring ecosystem evolution. By collaborating with manual planting, MORFO restoration projects are more efficient and sustainable, while creating local value and equitable economic redistribution. To learn more about the virtues of our complementary solution, read this article.

Collaborate with MORFO and restore your operations: request a demonstration of our dashboard by clicking here.
Environmental Content Manager
Lorie Louque
- Paris, France

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