Which trees are 'weed' trees?

indiancreeker(z5 IL)February 14, 2005

We have a 1-acre woodland lot which is in drastic need of some land management. I'd like to remove a lot of the weed trees, but I'm not sure which ones should go, other than a half-dozen or so red & white oaks and a couple of shagbark hickories which obviously should stay. Unfortunately, they are in the minority. The most numereous species are American Elm, White Ash, Hackberry, Black Walnut, and Black Cherry. Other species are Sugar Maple, Box Elder, Pawpaw, Hawthorne, Honey Locust, Red(?) Mulberry, and Hop Hornbeam (Ironwood). We also have single specimans of Ohio Buckeye, Catalpa, Osage Orange, and Wild Plum. The largest trees are probably a foot in diameter, but most are smaller. There are literally hundreds of trees crowding this tiny area. One section has also filled in quite thickly with native Corralberry which I'm starting to think should also be cleared out even though I've always liked it. There's a lot of native woodland forbes and grasses which I'm sure would flourish with more sunlight. My goal is to keep it a woodland, not try to turn it back into savannah even though that's probably what it originally was. Any ideas?

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lycopus(z5 NY)

It's a good indicator that you have paw paw growing there, provided it wasn't planted. Most of those trees are pretty conservative. The least conservative would be the box elder by far, followed by catalpa. The osage orange might qualify though I am guesssing it was planted. The honey locust and wild plum might also be considered more weedy but are not without merit. I'd keep some wild plum just for the fruit, aside from that it is more of a thick-forming species and not always desirable.

I left the mulberry for last because the native red mulberry is quite rare. It would be great if that is what you have. Check the underside of the leaves. If they are smooth with any hairs confined to the ribs than it is likely white mulberry. Red mulberry has almost downy undersides to the leaves (feels fuzzy). There are other characteristics but that one should seperate it quite well. Not sure how to go about making an ID in the winter.

Keep in mind that the ash, oak, and hickory will not compete well with sugar maple long term. Sugar maple is the next step is succession and tends to shade out the oaks unless the woods are kept open by fire. The paw paw and hop hornbeam will be quite happy in the shade. Since you only have an acre there you might want to manage for one or the other. Not so much cut them down but plan for the sugar maples to eventually become dominant or clear some space around the less shade-tolerant species.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2005 at 12:10AM
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Flowerkitty(Z6 or Z5 SE MI)

Lycopus has good advice. Three trees that dominate my locale are maple, box elder and white mulberry. They all out-sprout other trees. Maple shade is so dark other plants cant live under them. Box elder has lighter shade but the seed crop isnt much appreciated by wildlife here. Mulberries are the main tree of any vacant lot in our city. So unless you dont mind these trees taking over, you either remove them or spend a lot of time removing their children. I heard that Osage Orange is not easy to cut down

    Bookmark   February 16, 2005 at 9:45AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

IMHO sugar maples and boxelder are weedy.
IMHO oaks, hickories, and paw paw are desirable.

you may want to hire an ecological consultant to help you develop a woodland management plan.

i can reccomend a couple in Illinois, if you email me.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2005 at 1:41PM
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too_many_pets(LI Z7)

Lycopus..or anyone else-I'm just at the very beginning stages of learning about succession, climax trees and all that good stuff. Can you recommend a good, easy-to-read book? THANKS!!

    Bookmark   February 16, 2005 at 5:23PM
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lycopus(z5 NY)

Can't really think of anything easy to read. A Sand County Almanac might cover some of those topics but I'm not sure. Curtis' Vegetation of Wisconsin has some good general information on eastern hardwood forests, boreal forest, and a variety of other biomes but it is a regional text and isn't written for the novice. Many plant biology texts cover forest biomes. If you have access to a college library you should be able to find some good books to read on the subject. Might be possible to find something in a public library too if they haven't replaced all their references with romance novels.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2005 at 5:02PM
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veronicastrum(z5 IL)

Too Many Pets - The book linked below is a fairly easy read and may refer you on to more detailed reading. I enjoyed the book a lot.


Here is a link that might be useful: The Trees in My Forest

    Bookmark   February 21, 2005 at 2:38PM
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too_many_pets(LI Z7)


    Bookmark   February 21, 2005 at 10:00PM
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intheforest(4b Iowa)

Peterson guide to Eastern woodlands covers forest types and makeups, succession, and has in each section IDs for the common flora and fauna for each forest type. The Identification section is not all inclusive, but gives beginners a good reference book for several topics all in one book that focuses on forest ecosystems. The info on succesion is basic but its a nice little book. I'm sure there are better out there, but it is found easily. - Abbey

    Bookmark   February 22, 2005 at 9:34AM
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I don't know how much of it holds for Illinois, but a terrific read is "Natural Gardens of NC", by B.W.Wells. The chapter on "The Great Forest" is a great explanantion of the succession for pine to hickory/oak, with interesting sections on Forest Types and Shrub Understory.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2005 at 3:03PM
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Elms have been an enormous pain for us because they all eventually get mishapen, sick, die, and crash over onto something desirable like the oaks and walnuts. The only saving grace from a sick/dying/dead elm is that there is a good chance of finding morels growing under them in late spring. Get rid of the elms while they are still small.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2005 at 9:53PM
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Elms can be vaccinated against Dutch elm disease. Consult a good arborist.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2005 at 2:00PM
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Fledgeling_(4b SD)

or plant disease tolerent varietys

    Bookmark   April 10, 2005 at 9:26PM
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homer_zn5(z5 IN)

Which trees you remove all depend upon what you want out of the land. Personally, I fight Mulberry trees on my property--once you chop one down, it will sprout new branches next year if you don't treat it with a good brush killer.

Both Ironwood and Osage Orange are death on chainsaws. Plan on resharpening your chain after you cut down each one of those, if you decide you need to take them out at all.

I would personally keep all the elms, as I enjoy finding morels under them. If they start taking over, I would selectively harvest a few as new ones come in. Besides live elm trees, the only better place to find morels is near dead elm trees.

If you are ever planning on gardening in the area, the black walnuts may limit what you can grow in the area due to the jugulone they produce.

I would definitely keep the paw paw and buckeye. I personally hate hawthorne trees but like honey locust--go figure.

If your sugar maples are of decent size, you may want to advertise around your local woodworking clubs. You may find folks there more than willing to take them down and haul them away for you. Maple is pretty well sought after by woodworkers. You may even find some bowl turners who will want your smaller trees for bowl blanks.

All the best.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2005 at 2:29PM
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Personally, i think the maples should go, they crowd out too much of woodland undergrowth and oak/hickory forest with many critters depend on. then, maples overrun the world. granted, you could tap them for syrup, but it is hard work.

now, did i read paw paw?????? how close to ottawa, IL are you??????

hop hornbeam look neat when they are in seed(hence, the name), but i don't kow their benefit. eastern hornbeam does not grow the same seedheads. some people would kill for your black cherry as timber. if it was mine, i would guard it with my life.
wild plum i am partial to. i just like them, and great shelter for birds. pretty and sweet smelling blooms. very cool looking in the winter since they reach over each other and i am still short enough to walk under the branches.

good luck on that hedge apple.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2005 at 7:30PM
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A brand new book entitled "Native Trees for North American Landscapes" is 552-page gold mine of information written by two very experienced and knowlegeable tree people - Guy Sternberg and Jim Wilson. Kind of pricy but you may be able to get used copies on Amazon.com

A nice free online description and silvics of trees by US Dept of Agriculture Forestry Division is http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm

White oaks are the glory of the Eastern Forest - and yet individual specimens that have grown sparse and spindly in crowded and shaded conditions may be the ones that have to go. You may not realize it - but you have a tremendous variety of trees in a small one-acre plot (I can't help but think most were planted at some earlier time) Sugar Maple is the climax tree in many regions, but I'm not quite sure about your area in Illinois. They do create dense shade that eventually overpowers emerging much understory.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2005 at 9:31PM
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Funny you guys are all so fond of paw paw. It's a nice plant, but I'd probably get rid of it. In southern Indiana, a paw paw growing in anything but moist bottomland is there because of deer over-population or fire suppression--they're opportunists taking advantage of human disturbance, which is to say: weeds. They also tend to exclude the nifty herbaceous layer stuff that's the whole point of a forest, IMO.

Patrick Alexander

    Bookmark   July 14, 2005 at 1:23AM
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Fledgeling_(4b SD)

The person was talking about removing WEEDY trees not UNDESIARABLE ones. Since everyone has their own opinion on what makes an undesiarable tree, if you follow everyones advice you might end up of removing half of your existing tree species. A tree doesnt need a purpouse, it just needs to belong in the ecotype.

I can vouch for the book Native Trees for North American Landscapes, it is very usefull and a enjoyable to read.

Now what I would do would be keep or take down the mulberry depending on what species it was. I wouldnt worry too much about the oasge orange because it has much difficulty establishing its seedlings in the competition of forests- that is, SOME forests. I would keep the ironwood, hawthorns and plums.
Keep or remove the maples depending on what you want the species composition of the forest to be.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2005 at 9:38PM
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flowersandthings(MidAtlantic 6/7)

Black cherry can be weedy but is native. Norway maple is weedy and is not native and ailianthus is not native and is often weedy. :)

    Bookmark   July 16, 2005 at 4:08PM
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barton(z6b OK)

What about lacebark elm? I like elms for the shape, and because orioles like to nest in them. If I plant lacebark elm, will I be creating a monster? My woods are post oak, blackjack oak, hickory, serviceberry, a few cottonwoods by the creek, a few hackberry.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2005 at 11:33PM
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Maples and Sassafras I would say.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2005 at 11:19PM
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ladyslppr(z6 PA)

I'd say that any of the native trees you mention can be a nice addition to your woodland. If I was in your shoes I'd select the best specimens among the trees growing in the woods and try to give the good specimens space to grow by removing other trees around them. Select the trees to keep based on the spacing of the trees and their size and stature, not based on their species - I'd rather have a nice large tree of my second choice native species than keep a small or misshapen tree of my first choice species. Of course you have to differentiate between large trees and small - the selection between an oak and a plum really is apples and oranges. If it was me I'd probably select more oaks than maples or box elder, since maples tend to have less understory than oak, but I think all the trees you listed have merit. It sounds like your problem is not a bad selection of species, but rather too many trees crowded into the available space.

    Bookmark   December 25, 2005 at 9:40PM
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terryr(z5a IL)

Regarding the inoculation of elm trees....my dad has elms in his woods and they are forever getting dutch elm disease. I asked him about the inoculating....it has to be done once a year and only if and before you see any damage. One tree was $120 per year. He did 1 tree for 4 years, and lost the tree anyway.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2005 at 5:04PM
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Not the most comprehensive reply in this thread, but I'd certainly try to give as little space to box elder as possible. Native, but hardly the best long-term prospect.

I'd also limit the space given up to things like mulberry, although as someone posted, you may have the rarer type there. Otherwise, in general not an imposing tree in the long run though good for birds.

Re sugar maple: It's a shade tolerant long-lived tree, so yes, it will tend to dominate the stand over time. Still. a top quality tree, even if I've seen more than enough of them up here in Wisconsin. If you really want to have oak be able to regenerate, nearly complete clearing will be required. I think manage for the best timber species currently present, with a few fruit producers around the edges, and enjoy what you've got. Work on an interesting understory beneath high shade.........+oM

    Bookmark   December 27, 2005 at 2:30AM
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ScottReil_GD(z5 CT)

Oak is the mast food tree from sea to shining sea, with an appropriate pause for the Rockies. They gotta stay. Opening space around them is an excellent idea, Wisconsitom makes sense, although I think total clearing seems drastic...

Lot of maple haters here. Familiarity breeds contempt. Who is the first tree to flower in sring? Not showy but there they are, for all those early insects to feed on. So the early birds feed on them. Etc., etc...that said those boxelders can go... try girdling instead of cutting, leaves a fast decaying wood that stinks to burn or use for anything, but woodpeckers will go nuts feeding off of them. All they are good for, and girdling prevents suckering...

And why would we knock out any of the single species? If they become problems (I'd watch the locust and the catalpa), then sure...I like Ladyslippers approach, balance the area more. Knock back big numbers more than select species. Biodiversity through non-natural selection...


    Bookmark   January 7, 2006 at 2:01AM
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An alternative to cutting down the trees that you don't want is to girdle some and leave standing. You will attract all kinds of birds from woodpeckers to wrens. Birds like to nest in the dead cavities and will enjoy the grubs and other flora and fauna attracted to the decaying trees. Several of the state conservation departments are now suggesting that you push or leave lying the trees that you cut. The dead trees will provide food for the trees and a good layer of composted material for the next generation. It may look messy but we are hopefully providing for the enjoyment not only of the next generation but beyond.

How long have you had the land? Have you had time to sit or slowly walk through it at all seasons of the year. Sounds like you may have a healthy wooded area, if you removed the weedy trees you might be changing the micro-climate. Who knows you might have orchids or other rare plants that you just haven't been there when they bloomed.

I live accross from a wooded area that when I moved in in 1993 there were aproximately 20+ large oak trees most over 100 years old. Partially because of land development and climate change??? most of the old trees have been lost to ice or heavy winds. Because of the the understory plants of dutchmens breeches, mayapple, and others of that type are fading fast. The spindly trees will grow and replace the giants but if it happens it will not be in my lifetime.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2006 at 10:00PM
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There are NO "weed" trees except for introduced species. Now, itÂs a different story if you want to spruce up your property A bit.

If so, I would suggest that you leave a variety of trees and take out Only a few of your undesired species. It is important that there is a variety, all native trees are important and play a part in the ecosystem. I would keep the impact as minimal as you can stand on your forested property.
Like I sead There are NO "weed" trees

For instance, birds like ALL trees. They donÂt stay away from a tree because itÂs "ugly", common, or an American Elm, White Ash, Hackberry, Black Walnut, etc, etc. which you call "WEEEEEEED" trees.
WE are the "weeds" around here. we are common, destructive, and we have chopped down Americas forests until there was barely anything left. We are worse than termites, and all other of the earths "pests".

We kill anything that stands in our way. For instance, You know that little spider that wanders into our house to stay warm or Find shelter? SQUISH! ThatÂll teach em. Right?

Also you know those "annoying" trees that live in that perfect little spot we want to build our house? Well, we chop them down and burn Them like yesterdays trash. Thousands of people are doing this as we speak, every day.
The forest is defenseless and we stomp it out like we hate it. I know trees cant hear but I think we owe them an apology or is that Just hogwash? Well is it?

We accidentally step on someoneÂs toes and were sorry, but when we kill A tree 300+ years older than your great grandfather that will live on for 300+ more are we sorry? Rarely.

Why do you need to cut trees from your property? Too natural for you? Too many? Are they blocking your view? Just because you can? Just because you want to? Too ugly? Are they "taking over"? Does that tree drop too many leaves on your precious sidewalk?

The city or dessert doesnÂt have trees, how would you like to move there?

What about those bugs we smash and poison? Too natural for you? Too many? Just because you can? Just because you want to? Too creepy? Too ugly? Are they "taking over"?

I bet you think IÂm being ridiculous. Am I?

Do something for me will you? Go outside close your eyes and listen to the wind in the leaves, look at the happy birds sitting in the shady branches, have a picnic under the nice cool tree shade, please, youÂll feel like a million bucks if you truly enjoy it.
pretty soon we arenÂt going to have any tall proud trees left do to our carelessness so enjoy those "weeds" while you can.


    Bookmark   April 12, 2006 at 3:08PM
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Before anyone says anything, I know I misspelled desert. I caught it just after I submitted.
Good day again.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2006 at 3:25PM
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radagast(US east coast)

As mentioned before, focuse on exterminating any truly invasive species, particularly non-natives. Those are the nasty things that turn once diverse forests into monoculture stands of something that is generally useless.

Next up, focus on long-term health of the forest. I don't mean getting rid of snags (unless they are a threat), but on clearing out diseased trees that might spread illness to healthy trees. Also, make sure that there are young trees that will eventually grow and fill in the canopy as the older ones die off in the years to come.

Looking at the first post, you have a great amount of diversity in that 1-acre woodlot. I wouldn't try to reduce that diversity, really.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2006 at 8:02AM
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Sounds beautiful, Why not leave it to evolve on its own?Sometimes "gardening" means just watching,and not trying to make it "better".

    Bookmark   May 4, 2006 at 2:22AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

In Illinois, where the original poster is from, a woodland left to its own devices will become blanketed with alien buckthorn and garlic mustard and not much else. The habitat value degrades and wildlife goes elsewhere seeking a place where they can thrive.

Girllovesdirtand bugs said:

"There are NO "weed" trees except for introduced species."

That is not true. Changes in the environment, due to disturbance and lack of disturbance have altered the succession of species, including native species. Some native species can become weedy when the components of natural disturbance are removed from the ecosytem.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2006 at 11:21AM
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Flowerkitty(Z6 or Z5 SE MI)

I second what scottreil_gd about saving dead trees for the birds. We have and acre with two large dead boxelders. They have many nest holes, for red bellied and downy wooodpecker, and Northern flickers have raised young the last two summers. IMHO they become more beautiful as the bark falls off and the wood becomes smooth and bleached. Very glad I did not remove them.

If you live on the property, the female box elder is the main food source of box-elder beetles. They look like black and red roaches, but unlike roaches they dont eat human food. They suck the juices from the greens of the box elder tree, and sometimes maples. They won't bite you. But they can drive you nuts.

We have zillions. They live in our house in winter, cover the outside in spring. They don't eat all winter so just before spring they get restless and come out of the walls. I have to cover all pots on the stove so they dont fall in the food. I cover my drinking glasses too. Luckily, they are non-toxic in case we eat one poached. If you step on one they leave a red stain. Once I used a shop vac to take them off my house and the bag got soaked with red bug juices so I dont even vac them now.

I reduced the numbers from billions to millions by using the huge bug clusters on the outside of the house to locate the tiny holes they were using to get in. They have helped me weatherproof my home.

They have no natural enemies because they taste bad so they are dumb as bricks and have no fear. I read they stink but I cant smell it. My cats ignore them, and spiders dont eat them. Since I found out they feed kind of like a butterfly on plant juices, and they dont carry disease, I no longer hate them. I look at them as large dumb sweet ladybugs

That said, I sure wish I didnt have them. Removing the female box elders, the ones with the seed clusters, gets rid of those guys.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2006 at 4:31PM
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Flowerkitty(Z6 or Z5 SE MI)

I will add one more ridiculous item about box elder beetles. Those little bugs are shameless. They are plastered over my back door, in pairs, mating, all the time in the spring. Now, I am not about censoring bugs, but I have to see this everytime I come in the house, and this exhibition keeps me thinking: here comes another million!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2006 at 4:37PM
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brendan_of_bonsai(4b AK)

Am I the onlyone who feels like they have been acused of ecological terrorism? It is important to try to mimic the parts of nature that we have eliminated, since burning is probably out of the question going through and gurdling some of the faster growind species would probably be a good idea, that and pulling out every invasive that you see.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2006 at 8:09PM
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tantadoodles(z6 CT)

I'm surprised to hear so many people wanting to get rid of the sugar maples. That is my favorite tree on my property. It is true that it is big and full but it is spectacular in the fall. It has the most intense yellow/orange color. I wish I had more of them. Unfortunately, most of what I have are beech and tulip. IMHO, those are weed trees!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2006 at 10:56PM
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turbo_tpl(z7a Richland WA)

Congratulations - you have a nice, diverse selection of trees for your property size and USDA zone.

I concur with other posters - the only trees on the list that might be problems are the Osage orange (native to the southern plains states, and obviously a guest tree), and the mulberry (which if a white mulberry is a (very) invasive exotic. Mulberry species can be hard to distinguish (they look similar and hybridize), so I'd recommend soliciting a look from an extension agent before acting - red mulberries are a highly valuable wildlife plant. As long as the osage orange is behaving itself, I'd be inclined to leave it alone.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2006 at 9:35AM
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Another book you might enjoy is Reading the Forested Landscape, by Tom Wessels. I'd want to add Beeches and American Chestnuts just cause they're lovely. Such wonderful species you have. The warmer temps we've been having are hard on the Sugar Maples here. They are so graceful and magnificent in the fall with their color, and their sweet scent in the spring. They don't seem to annoy other trees and plants, growing hard by, but the roots are in a woodsy spot covered with leaf litter, not under a lawn where there's more of a struggle for resources. The Osage Orange used to be used as fence posts, as it takes them years to rot [15, I think]. People used to grub them out[dig ]to use. Black walnut can be a strong allergen, although I hear it's a handsome tree. The idea of leaving most of the woods to grow would give you a chance to observe which are pioneer species [like tulip trees]and which are coming into their own now.
What do you mean by land management exactly? Do you mean as a woodlot, for firewood, for hardwoods, for furniture? Since it'll be another 50 or 75 years or more before the trees are good sized, you might as well grow it for enjoyment. It's most efficient in terms of growth, & production of oxygen, the way it is. Forests have been working out growing, competing for sun, pulling carbon atoms out of the air, making food, cooperating with bugs and animals, for millions of years. The pioneer species slow down, as the big guys crowd them out. You get to watch a miracle in progress. Don't be afraid to make your mark and influence things, but you don't have to.
If you have shaggy edges, you might want to add some native ornamentals, by the road.
One thing, sometimes, cutting back along an edge in a way that exposes quite tall skinny trunks, without the protection of buffer trees of an intermediate height, can expose them to wind damage. Good luck !

    Bookmark   June 10, 2006 at 5:54AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

tantadoodles, regarding the desire to remove sugar maples... its related to geography... I don't think that sugar maples have the same issues out east that do here in the midwest. (Maybe they do but I am not familiar with that area)

In an Illinois woodland, because of man's disruption of the fire cycle, the sugar maple takes over the woodland, and other species, like oak and hickory cannot reproduce. So when striving for diversity in a wooded lot in Illinois, its necessary to control the sugar maple (and buckthorn), otherwise over time the woodland will be covered in sugar maple saplings. Without sugar maple control, the next generation of woodland will be a monoculture of sugar maples with no understory growth.

In a yard or a landscape, where there is mowing and seedling control, sugar maples are beautiful trees.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2006 at 8:16AM
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i've been in my woods in indiana for a little more than 4 months. i don't know what a weed tree is except when it keeps sending out suckers faster than i can cut them down and the little suckers and their parents are shading and crowding out everything else, then i want it gone. i'm talking about sassafras. i read through the forum about sassafras and mulberry, but i'd rather not use poison as was suggested there. i enjoyed reading your wonderful and strong differences of opinion who am i to decide what lives and dies? however, the land was disturbed by other humans and caused this situation, so i feel it is justified to go out and murder as many sassafras as i can. someone mentioned girdling and that that eliminates the sucker problem....please tell me more! what is the proper way of doing this and how does this stop the tree from sending out suckers?

    Bookmark   September 24, 2006 at 10:50PM
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I think you should hire an expert to come out and take a look before you do anything else.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2006 at 2:44PM
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Dear IndianCreeker,
How is your woodlot?
Are there any local artisans, or furniture makers around? Or someone you are comfortable with, that deals in specialty woods, that might have a special interest in using some of what you have? Or a really talented woodworking neighbor that could make you something for your house?
Nywoodsman's idea of having someone seeing the site is excellent. I think someone may have said it at the top of the thread. What is where, is going to make a big difference in what to take down, when and where. Trends on the lot, value, and access, are going to reveal themselves to a knowledgable eye. Having someone you can explore your priorities with, and give you pros and cons on your choices, sounds really good.
Would your local County Agricultural Extension Service be able to connect you to someone? Maybe your State Agricultural College/Univ? - Aggies?
Your post really connected to a lot of imaginations. Thank you.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2007 at 1:26AM
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Most of the trees you described are valued for their wood,some for their fruit or syrup. Also I am a big fan of natural habitats and wildlife so if I were you I would leave some kind of woods on your property, if for nothing else pleasure and wildlife, it is an conversation starter.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2007 at 10:04PM
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