What should I do?(Woods/yard restoration)

oath5(z6b/7a MD)November 27, 2007

Hi there, I had a few questions. My family lives in a small house in Baltimore county with two acres, with a small stretch of woods that stand between our yard, and a former golf course and now a new development. The woods have been very neglected and are over run with brambles, poision ivy, but mainly bittersweet, honeysuckle and wild multiflora rose, which is diseased and is a risk to my cultivated roses up by the house. Me and my father pulled a lot of the roses out, sprayed them, etc to kill them, however, there are other leggy shrubs and old forsythia that are included in the understory as well as old I'm guessing property marking shrubs back from when our house was built in the 20's/30's.

I was thinking, though it would be a HUGE project, to do a restoration and get rid of the invasives and clear the buffer zone and possibly plant transitional plants like goldenrod and such but I would like to know how to go about that.

The question is, do I cut down ALL the shrubs in the undergrowth. some bloom flowers in the spring that look like small Japanese honeysuckle, though I don't smell anything from them. Leggy forsythia too as mentioned.

How should I go about returning the woods to a more natural and healthier state? I'm not sure we're allowed to burn, but should we just cut down ALL undergrowth, leaving only trees?

If I could I would take pictures and post them, but I'm currently at college and would be able to when I go home in a few weeks.

Thank you,


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Well, I think you need to do a survey of plants. Take pictures if not sure. Your local nursery, ag. rep, or nature society can help you identify. In fact, why not see if there is a wildflower society nearby. They'd probably love to look at this, give advice and maybe help as well.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2007 at 7:39PM
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waplummer(Z5 NY)

I woud not cut anything down unless I knew what it was. so you have to identify which will be more difficult now that they have dropped their leaves. The suggestion to contact a local wildflower society, nature group, garden club, coop extension is good.Then you have to determine how much sun/shade you have in spring/summer/fall. There are a few goldenrods that will grow in shade but most need sun.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2007 at 10:26PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

Anything that has green leaves on it right now, is not native and could be cut down.

In an area like that, you may not need to plant anything. After the shrubby invasives are removed, the native plants will resprout. If the site hasn't been too disturbed, the the native seedbank may be present, its just dormant right now.

I would keep working on removing the shrubby exotics and then monitor the site for what fills in. If after three years, you don't have a nice stand of natives, then start planting.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2007 at 10:26AM
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kwoods(Cold z7 Long Is)

"Anything that has green leaves on it right now, is not native and could be cut down."

This is generally true but I'm in zone7 also and we ahve only had one hard frost thu far. I have atlantic azalea and a viburnum in a sheltered area still borderline green.

I agree w/ what seems to be a general consensus; identify everything you possibly can, lose what you know are non-native shrubs, see what you have left and what comes up. It's a long term project and complete removal of the understory may actually set you back.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2007 at 10:46AM
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ladyslppr(z6 PA)

I would not remove anything you can't identify. Remove all of hthe exotic invasive species, decide on the others as you find them. I would encourage you to keep most or all fo the native plants, and remove most of the non-native plants that aren't invasive (of course I'd remove all invasive species). Non-natives that aren't invasive include various shrubs that you might keep for a while until natives can fill in.

I'd also start thinking about a plan for what you want the area to look like in the future. Do you want paths? A bench or somewhere to sit, views in some areas, perhaps screening in others? Once you have a general plan you can add or move plants that you want to keep, perhaps start to build the path, etc.

Instead of looking at this as one huge project, think of it as an ongoing hobby that you will continue to work on and enjoy as it evolves.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2007 at 12:52PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

"Instead of looking at this as one huge project, think of it as an ongoing hobby that you will continue to work on and enjoy as it evolves."

That is great advice.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2007 at 5:05PM
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oath5(z6b/7a MD)

It's true that some plants here are still green, but MANY plants are also loosing their leaves or are defoliated and dormant. These barrier woods have suffered serious neglect- there are bittersweet vines the width of my arm.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2007 at 8:14PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi Oath5, I have a 1.25 acre lot that was farmland 50 years ago, growing corn and asparagus and such. The previous and only owner of the property planted many trees and shrubs and about .75 acre in the back (plus some abutting property) was left to "go wild". Some of the plants are native and many are exotic and unfortunately much of the lot was colonized by some of the worst woody invasives in the Northeast US. I too have Bittersweet vines that are at least 3 inches in diameter.

It has taken years, but it was a process of identifying what was growing here, targeting the non-native invasives, and then prioritizing them for control. I've been removing invasives from the gardens and borders in front and side of the house all along. Then this year I aggressively starting attacking them in the wilder area. A friend with chainsaw came several times to cut the smaller Norways maples (9" diameter or less). For about six weeks during the late summer/early fall I crawled around in the bushes and cut by hand and carefully applied herbicide to the cut stems of mature Oriental Bittersweet and Glossy & Common Buckthorn.

I also purchased a Weed Wrench this past Spring and it has been invaluable for the smaller sized shrubs and saplings! I highly recommend purchasing one if you are serious about this project. I could have used one YEARS ago!

Additional invasives (shrub Honeysuckle, Multiflora rose, Autumn olive, etc) will continue to be removed on an ongoing basis. I expect to be working on eliminating seedlings for several more years at least as there is no doubt an impressive seedbank out there.

I've also identified natives and planted many more. I've got nursery beds where about 80 native shrub and small tree seedlings are growing. I'm planning to start growing native vines up some of the snags next year. I've created lasagne beds where the clearing has been taking place in the backyard and started planting native grasses and perennials in them (the oldest lasagne bed was started last fall). This winter I am going to try winter sowing for the first time, more native grasses and perennials. And I fill in with lots of beautiful annuals, mostly non-native, but with lots of wildlife value, such as Cleome, Cosmos, Tithonia, etc. These are much loved by the pollinators.

I happen to have the tree service coming tomorrow morning bright and early to remove two large Norway maples! One has a 30" diameter and about a 75 foot canopy spread. Looking forward to it!

PS sorry this is so long, but I love to talk about this subject and have pictures galore too.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2007 at 6:31PM
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kwoods(Cold z7 Long Is)

"I love to talk about this subject and have pictures galore too."

Post some?

    Bookmark   November 30, 2007 at 11:26AM
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oath5(z6b/7a MD)

terrene, you don't have to apologize for the length of your post at all, I appreciate the input. It will be a challenge that's for sure, and while I am 18, my father still cringes whenever I insist on doing something with a chainsaw- I understand his concern but it always ends up with him doing it himself and that's just not efficient. Some of the vines are so large I even told him we should hire a crew to quickly take care of it- but he just won't budge!

As soon as I go home I will spray the Japanese honeysuckle, it stays semi-evergreen here and it just needs to go. It's such a shame though, the scent reminds me of when I was little.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2007 at 12:14PM
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I'd say the forsythia is a low priority right now. I agree that you should not cut what you rae not sure about. You will probably have plenty to cut down while you are waiting to identify your mystery plants. My experience (here in NY) suggests something like the following:
1. First cut the invasive vines cut away from your trees and shrubs (do not pull the cut vines out of the canopy, just let them dry up and rot away). Cut low and cut high and remove the cut section so you can see what you have done.
2. Next cut back the multiflora rose since the thorns inhibit your ability to move around the property.
3. Next do a little damage to the herbaceous invasives.
4. Next hit the other invasive shrubs and then go back to the herbaceous invasives some more.
(Tackle the invasive trees last since you can use their shade to suppress your other invasives).
5. Now tackle the invasive trees.
6. Don't bother with a lot of new planting or seeding until you have started to do some damage to the invasives. Also, as noted above, you might be happily surprised with nature doing a lot of the restoration for you as you clear out the invasives. This also gives you time to see your property over a few seasons to notice what's there and what volunteers.
7. Remember it's a long term project, don't get discouraged and feel free to do what works for you.

Turning your project into an ongoing hobby is much more realistic than immediate eradication. Later on you can replace the japanese honeysuckle with a native. The really big vines can be cut with a handsaw that is designed for outdoor work (bow saw or pruning saw). You could also "girdle" the big vines to see if that helps. I have done a lot of woodland restoration over the last 5 or 6 years with very little use of power tools so know that it can be done. Check out the website for the Nature Conservancy. They have some useful management profiles for several invasive plants.
What really happens is you will do what time, talent and interest allow. You are doing a good thing so take some pride in that.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2007 at 12:37PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi Oath, it is great that you are interested in removing the invasives and restoring the land to a healthier condition. Battling invasives is hard work and takes time, so have patience. I love it though! Getting close to nature and creating a wildlife habitat, and it's good exercise.

I don't use a chainsaw at all, but have been able to accomplish a lot by hand. I cut, weed wrench, or dig out (when feasible) most all the shrubbery, vines, and small trees. Even large trees can be girdled and simply die a quiet death if they don't endanger any structures when they eventually fall (or if they're away from neighbor's disapproving eyes, since most people think dead trees are ugly). But I've paid a friend to cut some small-medium sized Norway maples and had a tree service remove trees as well.

As Bob says, with large Bittersweet vines growing up into the canopy, just cut and leave them in place. The exception would be smaller trees (10-15 feet) that are being strangled and it's easy enough to cut and unwind the vines. For example, here is a Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana) that was nearly engulfed by Bittersweet vines (not a great pic but you get the idea).

In spring 06 I cut them off and it's recovering nicely. In this picture that is mostly Bittersweet growing below the tree. I've pulled and mowed most of that now though.

Some of the cut shrubbery I leave in place to maintain a thicket and some is piled to create brush piles for wildlife. Some is burned too, definitely I burn stuff like Bittersweet cuttings with berries. The birds really love the brush piles, and the dead vines and brush for cover, so I don't burn a lot of it. Here is an example of Glossy Buckthorn (Frangula alnus) that has been cut and left in place, for now anyway.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2007 at 9:04PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Just wanted to clarify something - the 2nd picture of the Choke Cherry above was taken in Spring 06 a couple months after the Bittersweet was removed and it had leafed out. It was pretty sparse. It had much more foliage and flowers this year, but I didn't get a picture.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 9:32AM
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