Cleaned up overgrown wooded area of my property. Now what?

agurkas(5)August 20, 2014

I have 1/3 of acre of woods next to my house. I probably removed like a large truck load of saplings and young trees. I am sure previous owners never touched the area in 12 years they owned the place.

What I am looking to achieve is bit cleaner woods. I really like what I have seen in my neighborhood with basically just needles covering the ground, but not sure what I can do in the meantime to keep all those darn saplings from popping up and English Ivy spreading. Considering renting like a brush-hog and clearing out whatever I have missed. Maybe shred that humongous pile of branches and sapling into mulch and spread it all over the area.


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Brush hogging and mulching is the right steps to achieve a parklike understory devoid of plants if that's your goal. Routine brush hogging will likly be required until existing plant roots starve out. If you have deer,the regrowth is a deer magnet so they might keep it clean. Be certain you are fully aware before applying hebicides,they can kill trees.
Planting shade tolerant cool season grass/small grain goes a long way by shading out warm season plant germination/sproting in spring. Within 2 years new growth can be mowed with a lawn tractor as needed.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 2:38PM
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The "nothing but pine needles" look requires dense shade, conifers, time, and never, ever EVER raking. Looks beautiful if you achieve it.

Have you thought of planting ferns? They go well with the wooded look, could survive brush hogging, and are shade tolerant. They *MIGHT* compete with the woody shrubs a little. May Apple or triilum might work as well.

Be aware some of these trees will die over the years. To keep the woods alive, identify a few saplings that are of rare or interesting native species, or that are growing near a sick tree, and mark them to be left in place.

This post was edited by edlincoln on Wed, Aug 20, 14 at 18:22

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 5:57PM
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Skie_M(Zone 7 (Southwestern Oklahoma)

Another way to ensure that the undergrowth cant grow back easily would be to stake a lot of underlayment/moisture barrier down between the trees and around their roots and rake the debris/needles/mulch over it .... it will decompose over time, but before it does nothing will be allowed to grow up under it, just between the strips and that's a lot easier to take care of.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 6:02PM
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Wouldn't doing that across a third of an acre suffocate the tree's roots and mess with drainage? Water has to get through the dirt to get to the tree's roots. Besides, to put it in you would have to remove the pine needles, setting her long term goal back by years.

This post was edited by edlincoln on Wed, Aug 20, 14 at 18:42

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 6:26PM
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Skie_M(Zone 7 (Southwestern Oklahoma)

mmm ... true, I made a mistake in the "moisture barrier" part. I was actually thinking more of that heavy burlap stuff that is used to keep plant roots in their proper place on the edges and under gardens ... It'll decompose over time and just become part of the soil, but before then the shade it provides will kill anything trying to grow up under it. By the time it's gone, it'll be like 5 - 6 inches under leaves and pine needles... :P

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 6:29PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Sorry, didn't read any of the responses above, but just today received a newsletter that referenced something called a bosque. I just tried to do a quick search but coudn't find much. From the newsletter:

The Bosque is a French Victorian Design technique that was used by landscape designers and architects in the late 1880s-1920s. It is accomplished by taking an existing woodlands, thinning out the understory and cleaning out the brush, and planting the forest floor with spreading evergreen groundcover in order to provide a tranquil setting with extended views. This space is usually also planted with masses of daffodil bulbs for spring interest, as well as statuary interspersed to satisfy visitor curiosity.

Maybe this would work for you.

Here is a link that might be useful: bosque gardens

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 9:54PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Unfortunately, the definition says nothing about the legions of gardeners required to maintain the look. That's the sort of thing I do in my spare time, and 'informal' estate gardens are fairly evil things to maintain. Formal ones are actually much easier, so long as you aren't a perfectionist. The visitors hardly ever notice weeds unless the situation is very bad.

Unfortunately, most of the woody weeds are capable of growing in that mat of leaves and pine needles. So putting down mulch isn't really a solution. Dense enough shade/major root competition will slow things down a lot, but that takes decades. The best solution is usually to clear it out enough so that it can be mowed. Then going in there about once a month keeps it fairly well cleared.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 11:15PM
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The natural state of New England is forest, so there are plants that will sprout in sun (early succession species) and in shade (late succession species.) When you add to that all the various invasives that are around like buckthorn, bittersweet, barberry, ivy, etc. there really isn't anything you can do to prevent sprouting, either regrowing from cut plants or from seeds, particularly in a wooded area as small as 1/3 acre which will get good light throughout, unless you want to use chemicals such as glysophate (generic Roundup). You will probably find that everything you have cut down will resprout before fall this year, and if you want to use glysophate, this fall before leaf drop would be the best time since your plants have had one shock this year from the first trimming, and at that time plants are pulling back nutrients from the leaves, hastening the transport of glysophate to the roots. It's also less persistent than most herbicides. I will use it mixed at brush strength on poison ivy in areas we walk and on really persistent invasive plants (buckthorn and bittersweet), though in general I don't like manmade chemicals in my garden. I only use it on specific plants, either from a sprayer on a large droplet size that won't drift or on a paintbrush used directly on leaves or the cambium of the cut stump.

If it is level and smooth enough, you may be able to use your lawnmower to mow it, otherwise I'd invest in (not just rent) a walk behind mower made for rough areas because as Mad Gallica said, it will need regular mowing to maintain. On our much larger property, to maintain rough field (which had been starting to turn back to woods when we bought it) and to keep access roads open in the woods, DH uses either a walk behind rough mower (a Graveley in our case) or a brush hog that is tractor pulled, depending on the area size and turning radius. I have a large pair of lopers for small saplings in areas that aren't mowed as well as a pair of long-handled adjustable pliers for yanking out woody seedlings. I also have a machine like a gasoline powered string trimmer that is heavy duty and in addition to the string has a soft brush blade (raspberries and other semisoft plants) and a blade that will cut woody stems up to about two inches.

Certainly spreading a 2" or slightly heavier layer of mulch will discourage many seeds from sprouting that need light, but I wouldn't go much deeper than that due to the shallow roots of the existing trees needing oxygen. Likewise, if you can get extra leaves this fall and chop them up, they will make a good mulch. Unchopped they will mat unless mixed with pine needles or wood chips. If you go this route, you can't mow and will need to use hand tools to remove things that grow despite the mulch.

On the positive side, you may find that now you have cut out the brushy stuff, you have spring ephemeral wildflowers in your woods that grow and bloom before the trees leaf out, things like trillium, Actea (dolls' eyes), bloodroot or Solomon's seal. If you want a dense groundcover plant that may shade out some seedlings that need a lot of light, try hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula). It will tolerate some mowing and grows quite densely. We have some natural stands of it, and I find it quite lovely.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 8:09AM
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Some good feedback. So looks like pine needle only cover is not going to work, since there is plenty of light there, especially now that I cleaned out a ton of young maple trees and some kind of trees with black berries.

My ultimate goal is to have clean area where my daughter can play without coming home with ticks all over her. When we bought the place last month, I walked to check out the area, and even with precautions, I ended up with two ticks. Wasn't fun.

I would like to stay away from herbicides and really reduce the need to use pesticides, since my daughter is a curious little thing and touches everything.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 9:25AM
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If the goal is to keep out ticks, keep deer and dogs out of the area, and make sure there is no tall grass.

Look at the places in the area with the look you want. What's different about them? Do they have more shade?

My parent's summer house achieved the "pine needle only" look in a tiny lot without that much shade...but there are a lot of old conifers in a small space and root competition.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 10:11AM
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I understand the wish to reduce the habitat for ticks, and keeping down brush and tall herbaceous plants is a start. But there is the potential to get them anywhere and any time that it's above freezing and not all paved; I've gotten them in my veggie garden in April and seen them crawling on bare dirt. The only solution is to do a check when you come inside and also a neked full-body check every evening, including scalp and all skin areas. Get in the habit of doing it every night with your daughter and yourself and you'll be fine since ticks take a minimum of 36 hours to latch on enough to cause disease. Don't leave clothing that you've worn outdoors lying around where ticks might crawl off it into areas of living space.

The black berried saplings were probably either wild cherries of some type (native) or buckthorn (non-native invasive.)

Here is a link that might be useful: suggestions for dealing with ticks thread

This post was edited by nhbabs on Thu, Aug 21, 14 at 16:40

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 10:57AM
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luckyladyslipper(MA 5b-6a)

I got a tick this summer just walking down the driveway to the mailbox. nhbabs is right - you just have to keep checking.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 12:23PM
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I would leave a pile of branches if you have a sunny area. When our development was going up there was a brush pile away from the trees. As I walked close to it I heard chirping noise. The brush pile was full of wrens. I stopped and watched for awhile and saw them dive in to the brush. They were in an out all the time I watched them. I am assuming they were finding insects.

I envy you your woods, it is something I have always wanted. If it were mine I would leave it a little wild. I would leave the low growing plants, get rid of some of the shrubs so it would be it is now. I would clean up one area and put a bench or two there, if it got to wild I would make paths to walk on and have a area with benches for reading and listening to music.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2014 at 4:17PM
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Goal down the road is definitely to put in sitting areas and paths. But I really want to get a handle over the invasives and non-natives before I start putting down anything.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2014 at 4:22PM
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