Tracking agroforest tree plantings and farm features using QGIS

Here is a response I want to share from a question about how tree crop enthusiasts are keeping track of plantings and related info:

Metal tree tags on locust stakes are low-tech and work reliably. For a more advanced, digital approach, I use QGIS. It offers the benefits described in a comment above about ArcMap, but it is free and open-source software. It has a little bit of a learning curve, but it is a very powerful tool and it can interface with other geospatial technology including GPS, Google Earth, and iNaturalist. If you try this route, I recommend focusing on the following steps to begin with.

  • Install (and if you can, make a contribution to) QGIS
  • Find and download raster files (.jpg, .tif) for overhead views of your Area of Interest (AOI). These files are referred to as aerial imagery or orthoimagery, and in the U.S. you can get them from county GIS websites or from
  • Follow a basic tutorial about raster vs. vector file types, and creating shapefiles.
  • Create a polygon shapefile for your AOI boundary- Create a point shapefile for your individual plants.
  • Add new attribute fields to your ‘plant points’ shapefile to describe characteristics you want to keep track of. Here’s some fields I use (+ examples/explanation):
    • species (corylus spp.),
    • planted_date (fall 2019),
    • permanent (y/n in case it is to be transplanted),
    • measured (y/n to indicate if its location is precise or estimated),
    • source (to keep track of cultivars, purchases, etc),
    • updated (date for when this entry was last updated, since inevitably the records can get out of date; update this every time you update any other field for this data row)
    • notes (misc info that doesn’t fit cleanly in other fields, try to use this sparingly as it is better to have distinct fields in case later on you want to select or analyze plants based on some attribute)
Screenshot of QGIS in use for agroforestry mapping
Here’s what QGIS looks like in regular use for me. You can add shapes as points, lines, or polygons, which can represent individuals, linear plantings, or orchard blocks. This screenshot shows an individual tree point selected, with the kind of info I described above and more displayed on the right-side ‘attribute table’.

At this stage, you will have a powerful, interactive map of your AOI, with individual points or polygons to depict features of interest on your property, and those features can have a miniature (or massive) database of characteristics associated with them. You can have as many or as few fields as you’d like, and you can even associate fields (e.g. feature_ID) with other datasets, such as yield records or amendment history for an orchard block.

A basic tutorial about Coordinate Reference Systems (CRS) and about Georeferencing would be helpful to get ahead of GIS software’s more confusing aspects. Using an appropriate and consistent CRS is especially important for making accurate spatial measurements. You can also go to with questions.

Example map from QGIS
Here’s a finished map from QGIS. It is not as easy to make proper maps in QGIS but it is possible – a tutorial will save you a ton of time vs. winging it.

What do you think?