Need Suggestions for Woodland Plants

kicsibabaFebruary 20, 2005

The situation is: lots of invasives (the usual culprits - garlic mustard, stilt grass, grape vines as thick as my forearm, English ivy), lots of mature black walnuts and eastern red cedars, lots of standing dead cedars choked to death by the grape vines, STEEP slope, not much understory and what is there is scraggly and ugly.

We have beautiful natural pathways (from the huge deer population). After clearing out most of the dead standing trees, what to replant?

Would love to plant shadbush, but have too many red cedars...

Would love to replant dogwood, but only have one small native left due to anthracnose...

Would love mountain laurel or native azalea, but soil is extremely alkaline (this is a limestone ridge)...

I'm about out of ideas for the understory. I'd prefer natives, but at this point, I'd consider anything that likes alkaline soil and that the deer won't destroy (yeah, right.) Can anyone out there help out with some suggestions?

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I think you can still plant serviceberry (on the sunnier edges) and dogwood (nursery grown plants are more resistant to the disease). Personally, I can only think of acid loving plants right now, so I'm not much help.

What about native ferns? How would you categorize your shade - partial, dense?

Also post this question on the natives forum so you can get some more native ideas (especially if Elaine is around, she is in NJ).

    Bookmark   February 21, 2005 at 8:31AM
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kwoods(Cold z7 Long Is)

One thing I know I would try would be Hart's Tongue fern but it looks like you are looking for understory (shrub/tree). Maple leaf and black haw viburnum are pretty adaptable. There is one anthracnose resistant Cornus florida, it is Apalachian Spring but I thought Dogwoods liked neutral to acidic?

For herbaceous layer try columbine, ebony spleenwort, cliff brake, bulblet fern, walking fern (if you have any moist spots).

Best to figure out what plant community type or ecosytem is supposed to be on a calcareous ridge in the piedmont(?) of New Jersey and start getting some ideas from there. Even if you aren't going native it will give you ideas.

Eastern red cedars are pretty tough to grow anything beneath. Because they are evergreen (shading anything herbaceous) and also due to their efficient and opportunistic use of moisture they effect the soil and any groundcover beneath their canopy. They can actually further raise the soil surface ph of your limestone ridge and substantially decrease moisture. I think they have some kind of toxicity that impedes germination of some species too. Combine that with the known toxicity of black walnut on many plants and you've got a tough nut to crack (no pun intended). Black Walnut Toxicity

Good luck.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2005 at 12:57PM
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Cercis canadensis (redbud) is well-adapted to limestone outcroppings here, along with red cedar. After you clear vines, your red cedars will also grow and look better - there are probably some 1 and 2 foot babies just waiting for you to provide sunlight and room.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2005 at 3:13PM
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Don't assume you should get rid of all the standing dead trees. If you're interested in creating wildlife habitat, almost nothing is more beneficial than snags. More creatures live in a dead tree than a living one.

Unfortunately, I can't help you with a list of plants deer don't eat. Rabbits I can help with, but this is an old suburb and I don't have deer.

I have alkaline soil, and some plants that do well are many native viburnums, shrub dogwoods, serviceberry, elderberry, ninebark, coral- and snowberry, native plum, chokecherry, black cherry. Get a pH level for your soil, and be aware that many plants that prefer a slightly alkaline soil actually do well in a wide range of soil conditions. Gary Hightshoe's landscaping book lists the range of pH for hundreds of native species, along with a great deal of other terrific information. Understory plants that do fine in my garden are bloodroot, Virginia bluebells, dicentras, jacks, tiarella, heuchera, columbines, and several native ferns. I also have sunny gardens full of prairie plants. I don't amend the soil, so all are doing fine in alkaline conditions.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2005 at 4:36PM
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lukifell(zone5 NH)

It's no coincidence that deer do not like to eat Red Cedar.

I think you need to admit that you are not in control of your forest. The deer are in control of your forest. Total Control. Anything you plant out there will most likely be eaten. Even if it's not tasty the deer will eat it just because it's new and different.

It might be better if you fenced off a small area to keep the deer out. Then work within the fence. This won't be easy. But it will be realistic.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2005 at 1:33PM
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Thanks all! I hadn't thought of redbud (thanks, Brenda near Eno). Elaine, we're planning to leave as many standing dead as possible, but some are downright dangerous. The slope is so steep that we can literally push them over...

We do have a lot of bluebirds and piliated woodpeckers nesting in natural holes - sure don't want to lose them!

Again, thanks for the suggestions!

    Bookmark   February 26, 2005 at 12:39PM
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vegangirl(z6 VA)

Elaine, what is the title of Gary Hightshoe's book that you are referring to? I did a Google search and found at least two mentioned. It sounds like a book I would want!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2005 at 12:21PM
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Title of the Hightshoe book is Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America. It was at my side and open as I found this question. Couldn't live without it.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2005 at 10:51AM
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First, I would ask, why take down the deadwood (unless it's likely to fall on someone)? Many animals use deadwood.
That said, here are some planting ideas
consider native berries (there are lots)
Black cohosh

    Bookmark   March 20, 2005 at 4:29PM
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lauramich(z5 So. Michigan)

Wow! The description that you wrote of your property could have been written about my 5 acres here in Michigan. I have 3 acres of woods, mostly black walnut, black locust, and half-dead elms covered in wild grape, underneath of which is a sea of garlic mustard and English ivy on a steep slope that drops about forty feet over a distance of 300 feet, dry to wet. Deer, rabbits and groundhogs visit daily.

Big job, ain't it!

One native understory shrub that is very successful for me is pale dogwood, cornus obliqua, and red-twig dogwood. I have tons of both. They grow throughout my woodland, and in fact I have several I need to remove from my path. If you're a plant-trader, let me know.

I plan to try dogwood trees, cornus florida, in my woods this year to add another understory layer.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 21, 2005 at 9:35AM
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