Getting out the weeds for planting a woodland garden

mary4b(4b WI)April 17, 2005


I'm so excited to be setting forth on a new project! Along my backyard is a huge thicket area with some nice trees, some thicket, grasses, weeds, etc. This used to be the edge of a farmfield and the area is about 40' deep. Well, I do not own this property but the owners have given me permission to garden it. This included permission to remove anything I wanted. We cleaned up, removing only the thickets, thorny items and/or smallish trees that were killed/mamed by wild grapevines or had terrible form. The area still looks very wild, but now the eye can enter back IN to the area and relax on the beautiful bark of the doesn't look like an overgrown thicket anymore, although I left the last 15-20' as it was.

This area has tall decidious trees, the types are unusual to me, as I can't identify any of them...yet. Even so, I know there must be a good amount of sun that gets in the area because there's a lot of goldenrod and tall grasses and wild thorny raspberries that grow in there...this is what I want to get rid of so that I can have more of a woodland garden with ferns, hostas, etc. However, I plan to "garden" only the first 20' back and then leave the last 20' to grow as it always has with its grasses, etc.. Do you think this will work?

My question is...what will be the best way to clear the land of the current "weeds". I'm not much for chemical use, and I'm patient. I'm thinking of laying down clear plastic all over the area and letting the weeds/grasses sprout and burn under the plastic. Do you think that would work? I thought I could leave this all summer....or I could leave it 3-4 weeks, then til the soil and put the plastic back down again to get more of the perennial weeds. Finally, in the early fall, I figure I could plant the garden with spring blooming bulbs, some ground covers, a few nice shrugs, ferns, hostas, etc...

What do you think of my "plan"? I'd be open to any criticisms or suggestions if you think I'm overlooking anything.

My ultimate goal is to have a fully planted area with plantings that are so full and happy that they naturally keep a lot of the weeds down, but it really isn't an area that I want to "weed", as I already have enough of that!

I hope this wasn't too long...Thank you!

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mary4b(4b WI)

I forgot to mention...the soil in this area is to DIE for...loamy with bits of sand. I can't wait! I've been struggling with clay, but the years of leaves have created the ideal soil!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2005 at 2:28AM
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mainegrower(Z5b ME)

I think it's pretty doubtful that the clear plastic treatment would kill tough plants like raspberry, goldenrod or the grasses. The tops would burn off but I think the roots would survive and resprout - especially in a cool climate where the heat necessary to kill roots would be unlikely to penetrate deeply enough.
The available herbicides are touted as safe, but they are strong chemicals and your wish to avoid them is admirable,.
Hand digging and removing the roots is an option, but would be an enormous amount of work and the raspberry especially can resprout from the smallest of root fragments.
Another possibilty is this, and I honestly don't know what the long term effectiveness would be. Cut off all top growth and lay down a thick layer of newspaper, cardboard, etc. The rest comes from a North American Rock Garden Society article from some years ago. Lay down a thick layer of leaves - 3 feet or more - and top this with sand and bark mulch. You can plant directly into the top layer by fall and over time the newspaper will rot away and the native soil will become mixed with the pile. This too would represent an enormous amount of labor and I'm not sure it would work, having used this technique only on a very limited basis myself.
At this point I'm sure the hebicides are sounding better!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2005 at 6:44AM
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ahughes798(z5 IL)

Use Round-Up. Much quicker and cheaper. it's not persistant in the environment, either. april

    Bookmark   April 17, 2005 at 9:24PM
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Judy_B_ON(Ontario 5B)

Before removing any more plants, get a good field guide and identify what is there. What you are calling grass,weeds may be native sedges and wildflowers. A native woodland garden with trillium, waterleaf, baneberry, cohosh, wild leeks, and so on is also beautiful.

You might what to watch the area for the first season to see what naturally comes up, where the sun is and how moist the area stays during the summer. The sun and moisture level will determine what plants are likely to do well.

Once you identify the plants already there and decide which you are keeping, use a paint brush to paint Round Up on the leaves of the plants you want to kill. Using plastic or newspaper will kill everything.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2005 at 9:58PM
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I agree with Judy B. Identify what's there first. It sounds like you may be killing natives to replace them with aliens like flowering bulbs and hosta--not a great idea, ecologically speaking. As Judy says, you can plant gorgeous natives that will improve the area for wildlife as well as look beautiful. Identify those trees--that will tell you what kind of forest you have, which in turn will tell you the right kind of understory shrubs and groundcover to add or encourage.

Another thing, if the area is sunny enough for raspberries and goldenrod, it's probably too sunny for ferns and hostas unless you plan on quite a bit of supplemental watering.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2005 at 8:30AM
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virginia_w(z3 WI)

I agree with the idea of finding out what is growing there first. I have "cleaned out" two woodland areas of wild raspberry bushes in Wisconsin to start woodland gardens--one in north central Wisconsin and this one in northern Wisconsin. You may find hepatica, trillium, ferns, shinleaf, maybe wild columbine, wood anemone, and wide leaf aster growing in your woodland. This latter is a weed as far as I'm concerned because if you don't get rid of it, it will take over. I'd suggest pulling the raspberry bushes by hand. It works best in early spring when you can pull them more easily. They have long runners underground, so you can get rid of more than one by pulling. Also I started planting hostas, bulbs, etc, even though I knew I had not got all of the wide-leaf aster. For the first few years, I would get more of it each time I weeded, and now it is mostly gone. I would also suggest doing a section each year for a few years instead of trying to do it all at once. I now have woodland garden all around the house--no lawn. It is lovely with rocks, paths, shade plants, shrubs, bulbs, and woodland wildflowers. It is a lot of work but it is worth the effort. By the way, the trees I have are birch, popple, maple, ash, a few oaks and evergreens. You very likely have some of the same here in Wisconsin. Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 19, 2005 at 1:43PM
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mary4b(4b WI)

Thank you for your great suggestions! I had a busy week and couldn't get back on.

Thanks for letting me know that you think the plastic idea is not good for this project.

I'm actually very familiar with what's growing there and am wondering if maybe I don't have a woodland...just a thicket area with some trees? I think this was just the "edge" of a farm field at one time that a farmer allowed to just "fill in" as it wanted.

Some of the trees are cottonwood and buckthorn, there may be an elm. I'm actually pretty knowledgeable about trees and some of them just plain have me "stumped".

As for the native is mostly goldenrod that grows in the sunnier areas and some type of tall grass that covers the entire field behind my little wooded strip. There's some yarrow in there, which I've already made use of on my property and which grows in my lawn. Other than that, there really aren't any wild flowers. I've watched this area grow every year because I'm very keen on preserving things if they are nice. But as for the goldenrod, my husband and I both have allergies and it will be a blessing to get it out, even though I do think goldenrod can be beautiful.

Your suggestions are good...I think I'll use round up on a mop head or glove so that I can be more selective and perhaps just do a portion at a time.

Thank you so much! Mary

    Bookmark   April 20, 2005 at 2:23PM
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susanargus(z7 NoVA)

Goldenrod doesn't cause allergies - it just gets blamed for the allergies caused by ragweed and other things that bloom at the same time. :>

    Bookmark   April 20, 2005 at 5:12PM
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Judy_B_ON(Ontario 5B)

I have a woodland garden on a 100 x 50 city lot that backs onto a conservation area. My "forest" is a remnant of a farm hedgerow and had hawthorn, pagoda dogwood, chokecherry, a few small hardwood saplings and lots of buckthorn when I started.

It took me two or three years to clear out the buckthorn and a lot of the chokecherry. I removed periwinkle planted by the previous owners and most of the raspberry, then added trillium, jacks, baneberry, and other woodland natives as well as adding native trees and shrubs like ironwood, blue beech, ash, leatherwood. And I added zigzag goldenrod and blue stemmed goldenrod -- great for fall colour.

BTW, goldenrod does NOT cause allergy, it is an insect pollinated plant -- wind pollinated plants are the cause of allergy. Lawn grass, maple, oak, willow, birch, ash trees and ragweed are allergy causing plants with pollen that can travel miles on the wind. You will have no success in controlling your allergies with what is planted in your yard, that pollen blows in from elsewhere.

Your "thicket" can be the start of a fine woodland. There are many native plants that do well in partial shade or partial sun including large leaved and heart leaved aster, wild blue phlox, columbine, wood lily, various sedges, blue eyed grass,native geranium, bellwort, spiderwort are a few.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2005 at 12:11PM
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mary4b(4b WI)

Susan and Judy...thanks for helping me out on the allergy info...I guess I was sort of naive to think it would make a difference. And...I have no idea where I determined that ragweed and goldenrod were one in the've set me straight!

Judy, what you've done sounds very much like what I would like to do. I'm going to research the Wisconsin native woodlands and prairie info to see what I can incorporate that's native. I have ferns that I can't get from a neighbor who has more wooded property than me, as well as the native geranium. I'm also going to put in some of those "foreign" plants that make me happy...some bulbs, hostas, etc. For trees and shrubs, I plan to add back in as my budget allows for over time, but I'll be choosing things for the birds, like Serviceberries and perhaps a few low growing evergreens to provide winter hiding spots for them. I'd also like to put a few rhodies in there...I like them so much.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2005 at 2:03PM
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Where I come from hosta is a weed.Be careful you dont destroy what you have before you'er aware its there.You wouldnt be the first property owner to do so.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2006 at 1:23AM
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ladyslppr(z6 PA)

I agree that it is wise to be very careful about what you remove. I make a rule of not removing anything I cannot identify - that nondescript sapling you kill might have been a lovely viburnum you'll end up paying $30 to replace.

Anyhow, once you have decided to remove some plants, I would proceed by cutting them off at ground level then digging the roots out. Once you have done this, cover the disturbed soil with a nice thick layer of mulch. I prefer to use fallen leaves shredded with my lawn mower for mulch, but you could use other things like shredded bark. (Please do not buy cypress mulch, since much of it comes from the cutting of whole small cypress trees - it is not a by-product of wood production. In Louisiana they are clear-cutting cypress swamps to make mulch and many of the swamps will never grow back.) You might get similar results with Roundup instead of digging the roots, but I prefer to avoid chemicals, and with a rock-free loamy soil it shouldn't be too hard to dig. You should be careful to thickly mulch disturbed woodland soil or else you may invite a plague of invasive non-native plants.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2006 at 9:54PM
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How long do you have to wait after applying Round Up before you can plant?

    Bookmark   June 1, 2006 at 9:21PM
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