Starting new woods - any ideas?

jimbobfeeny(5a IN)April 1, 2012

I am trying to reforest a part of an old pasture. Most of the pasture is low-lying, but there is a slight knoll at the Northeast corner that extends beyond the fence. (The area behind the pasture is just abandoned land - lots of 10 ft. tall trees) I want to plant a 100-ft wide strip of woods, consisting of sugar maple, basswood, white ash (Emerald ash borer aside), red oak, and other mesic-type trees. The area is at the base of a west-facing slope, with decently moist, rich soil that is somewhat acidic (About 6.5 or so). I also want to include a 30 foot "Woodland edge" with trees like dogwood, redbud, and serviceberry. I have started out with only 5-10 year old saplings - I know I'm going to have to wait a while for the woods. Any way to keep weeds and invasives out? Also, does Carolina Silverbell grow OK in central Indiana? I love the look of them, and want to include a few in the edge area.

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Any way to keep weeds and invasives out?

Mulch and a sharp eye. Ask tree/power companies if they have spare chips from trimmings. Often they would rather dump it then pay to dispose of it. The sharp eye is to spot invasives early before they get the upper hand. Easier to remove that way.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2012 at 9:56PM
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Sounds great. A couple red maples for color would be nice. Maybe some hazelnut, mulberry or chestnut or other "working" trees. We have an established woods about these dimensions that we are rehabbing as the last owner neglected it for about 10 years. Mostly clearing the mid-level out and pulling buckthorn, garlic mustard and creeping charlie along the edges.

For planning, think about the canopy and how large each tree is going to be. Our mulberry is bent at a crazy angle because it's trying to get out from under the oak tree. The oak got mostly blown over in a wind storm so is only a shadow of it's former self, so looks like the mulberry won that battle.

Also think about the ground level and what plants will do well with which trees. Native flowers can take a long time from seed to establish themselves so you could get a start now. For invasive prevention, you could look at fast establishing ground cover like wild ginger or even trout lilies which cover the ground well and early.

Keep things under control. An ideal woods has a populated ground, a clear midlevel and a full canopy. Think about the visual aspects of the woods and what you would like to see throughout the year.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 12:18PM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

Thanks for the ideas! We actually have a huge pile of mulch by our driveway that we had asked the power company to dump last spring, and now we are wondering what to do with it! I haven't put any around the trees I've planted yet, but I certainly will. As to the ground covers, I might try trout lily. Already, this pretty little native is growing into the pasture from the woods surrounding the pasture, so I might try to "help it along", so to speak. I would like to try to establish some sub-canopy trees and some shrubs; I was thinking of trees like Flowering dogwood, serviceberry, redbud, and other flowering natives. I also would like to plant shrubs such as spicebush, purple-flowing raspberry, viburnums, etc. Thanks for the suggestions!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 7:16AM
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I'm amazed that there are other folks out there who are as crazy or as patient as I am - trying to grow a woods - which we know will be a 10-year or 20-year job. Most people won't even live in the same house after that period of time. I commend you for undertaking such a bold and visionary project!

My advice would be:

1. Plant the canopy first. Don't even attempt the dogwood/serviceberry/redbud understory until the canopy has had a few years to get a head start. The last thing you want is the understory competing with the canopy. The understory species will also probably roast in the direct sunlight and heat if you start it too early. Remember understory trees love shade and can't handle too much direct sun or heat.

2. Plant much more than you expect to survive. Some percentage will never make it to maturity, no matter how much you care for it, because that's the way nature works. If you wind up with too much, it's much easier to remove than it is to plant more if you have too few.

3. Make sure your soil is rich, soft, and gets plenty of water. If it's compacted/depleted/eroded soil, things aren't going to grow well.

4. Make sure there's sufficient sunlight for your woods. If it's caught under the crowns of overgrown nearby trees, you'll never get the full sunlight you need for real growth for the sun-loving canopy species.

5. If you have a good "leaf layer" (leaves, pine needles, acorns, etc.), this is better than a live ground cover like Trout Lily. Any live ground cover will compete with your trees for root space, soil nutrients, and water. Every little bit counts when you're trying to establish young and/or transplanted fragile trees. Let those leaves trap moisture, decompose, and enrich your soil. Fallen leaves are your ecosystem's best friend.

6. If you don't have a ton of resources for buying trees for such a large area of land, you may want to try to use volunteers, saplings, seedlings, or planting from seed. All of these can be tricky, but they're cheap.

7. Hopefully Mother Nature will provide enough rain during the early years while you're getting your trees established, but if she doesn't, you'll need to occasionally run some sprinklers to make the difference between life and death for some fragile trees. When the leaves start wilting or yellowing during the growing season, you know it's time to run the sprinklers once a week to give them an inch of water.

8. Don't let the deer eat your saplings.

9. Weed by hand - don't use chemicals. Weeding by hand shouldn't be that much work and it doesn't have to be done perfectly. Any sort of damage to the young weeds will usually spell doom for them, or at least buy you some time before you have to pay another visit with a sharp tool.

10. Don't purchase mulch. Let fallen leaves provide the natural mulch and it will work so much better and save you a lot of time and money that you can better spend on other aspects of the project.

11. Be patient. While it's good to check on your growing woods regularly, don't do too much. Once you do what you need to do, it may be months before you need to do anything else. As time goes on, you'll need to do less and less. Remember that this will take decades.

12. Plant well. Make sure you plant at the right time of the year, handle and transplant your specimens very carefully, plant them quickly, especially if you're planting bare root, make sure to pack the earth to the right density, place the base of the trunk at the right height relative to the soil, cover them with natural mulch, and water them heavily in the initial weeks after planting. Poor planting will wipe out most of your stock, forcing you to do it all over again, probably the next season.

Good luck and keep up the great work!

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 10:37PM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

Thanks for the advice! It definitely is a bit ambitious to try to start a new woodland from seedling trees - I'm patient, though. At our old house, which we lived in for nearly 20 years, we planted a bare north slope in sugar maple, red oak, and other regional hardwoods. My brother owns the house, now, and there is quite a forest now where it was once just bare grass. It took 20 years for decent trees to form from saplings, but the end result is well worth it!

I'll admit I'm a bit of a penny pincher - If I can find decent seedlings coming up in the woods or in my garden, I use them instead of buying trees. As to the ground covers, I'm not going to do anything yet - The trout lilies are pretty slow spreaders, and they are only in the corner of the area. I do have some dogwoods in the hedgerow at the edge of the pasture, but they are pretty far away from my seedlings. The only other mature trees are mulberries, extremely thorny honeylocust (I've poked holes in my mower tires - part of the reason to replace the mowable grass with woods!)

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 7:08AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

One other thought. Keep your eyes open for self sown seedlings and decide if any are worth keeping. The fact that there are 10 - 15 foot trees nearby implies that there may be a seed bank in the land and that it may start producing trees if the pasture is being left alone now.

BTW shrubby dogwoods grow really easily from cuttings. Just poke lengths into the ground and many will root.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 11:43AM
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Some people would probably say it's crazy to try to plant a forest from scratch. Other folks would say it's a gift to future generations, a legacy of sorts. Others would say it's creating a safe haven for wildlife. Others would say it's just one small step toward saving the planet. For me, it's time worth spent just doing it, watching it grow, helping it along. We may not have much time on this earth, but it never hurts to spend it doing something meaningful.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2012 at 7:11PM
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My project is similar, two woodland areas that I want to establish, but they aren't very big. Right now one has about 3 trees in it and the other has maybe 15. It's hard to tell.

As I plant more trees, how far apart should I plant them? Should I plant the way nature does, closer together, or should I plant to give them elbow room, or a combination?

    Bookmark   May 25, 2012 at 3:51PM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

A combination would be nice - early competition helps young saplings grow straight and tall; I would thin them eventually, saving the best trees. Use the trees you cut down for mulch, or just leave them lying on the ground for that "woodsy" look. I think 9 feet is the minimum for good growth. Try to space them randomly, so you don't get the "plantation" look.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2012 at 9:40PM
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Thanks! I definitely want the "woodsy" look. It's fun to try to imagine what these areas will look like years from now.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2012 at 3:17PM
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jcalhoun(8b Mobile County AL)

Check with your state departments of agriculture, conservation, etc. and maybe the state colleges to see if they have programs for reforestation by landowners. Basically, they will supply recommended plants at little to no cost.

Alabama has something similar with the longleaf pine.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 2:06PM
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you may also want to consider placement of understory trees like dogwood and bushes as you plant what will be the larger trees and then do not run the risk of trying to fit them in later and perhaps have to remove trees to fit them in just a thought
good luck

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 11:19PM
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I was going to post a new thread but I think I'll jump into this one instead. Along my side yard I have one large oak and about 3 dogwoods. They are parallel to a road. Everything under these trees was lawn when I moved here a year ago. I would like there to be less lawn and more 'natural cover'. I put down some mulch and plastic and planted some bushes along the road, and I stopped mowing under the oak and put my autumn leaves there instead, then planted some vinca. Now I notice seedlings of the oak and probably a few other local trees too. If I don't pull out these seedlings... will they eventually grow into slender young trees and will I eventually have a sort of mini-forest there? That's what I would like.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 4:20PM
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Campanula UK Z8

I established a hedge at my allotment by putting 2 posts up and stringing wire between them. Within 4 years, perching birds had gifted me with a range of seedlings and 10 years later, I have elder, blackthorn, mespilus, hawthorn and briar roses. Of course, this is the lazy way for patient cheapskates but - yah know - something for nothing..........

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 10:24AM
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