Taming a woodland - Am I Nuts?

achnatherum(z4or3 Ontario)May 15, 2007

A little more than an acre of our property is a woodland area that I am trying to tame. The canopy is a combination of Scotch Pines the remainder of a 30 year old Christmas tree planting and some very large black walnuts. This woodland patch is surrounded by 30 foot tall Spruce (also old Xmas trees) The woody understory consists of Cornus alternafolia, Spice bush (few) & Sambucus spp. and numerous saplings (black walnut, ash, cherry, spruce, etc.)

We never used this area in the past as it was full of brambles & tall perennial weeds, & vines (including poison ivy). BUT, the winter before last I removed a number of the dead or dying Pines, tore out a lot of the brambles, poison ivy & grape vine and saw the potential for a lovely woodland walk.

Here is the "am I nuts part";

Over the years a nice sprinkling of 'nice' natives have established a foothold under the weeds (trilliums, false solomon's seal, Arisaemas, violets, etc.) However, for the second year I have pulled & am pulling a very healthy population of garlic mustard. And there appears to be a ground covering seedling population ready to keep me busy for the next 100 years :o(

I have started to move in some of the shade lovers from my garden including hostas, cimicifugas, aralias, Hellebores, Brunneras, & ferns - this will not be a purist's native planting - afterall, the woodland was manmade to begin with!

Now the the hostas are unfurling I have also discovered that the woodland must have a very healthy population of ... SLUGS - ick!

So keeping in mind that I have garlic mustard up to my ears, slugs eating my new hosta plantings, blackflies & mosquitos taking a few nibbles at any bare skin ~ AM I NUTS??? or, is this a 'do-able' project .......

Right now I am desperate for some encouragement & slug solutions or a thumbs down 'you're crazy' permission to quit kind of comments

Help .........


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You might be nuts but that is helpful in restoring a woods. You also have permission to retreat from the black flies when they get too bothersome. Eradicating garlic mustard from one acre is not impossible, just hard. Make sure to remove it from the site after it's pulled. To compete with the garlic mustard and to make things more interesting, I would add a lot of native, shade-tolerant plants. A small woodchip or gravel path would make the area more human friendly. As time goes on and you continue to pull out the garlic mustard, you will also likely get a lot of nice volunteer plants to help things along. I would, however, be hesitant to rip out too much of anything native, including any native brambles, because they serve ecological purposes and also provide some protection from deer to tree and shrub saplings.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 8:55AM
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achnatherum(z4or3 Ontario)

Bob, thanks for the encouragement!
A nice winding, coarse sawdust, path is in place (sawdust from a neighbouring sawmill).
The garlic mustard (trailers full of it) are 'composting' on the edge of our ravine, where all the 'not desirable in the compost' things go. When I'm finished pulling & piling I will dump something else on top to smother it & stop it from ripening seed (still in flower at this point). Last year I had a burn pile going & surprisingly, green garlic mustard plants burn quite well!

As for volunteer plants - there are zillions! That is what is making the garlic mustard eradication so difficult :o( I hate to pull up anything that looks interesting. The other day I even saw a small Jeffersonia diphylla - I have never seen one of these anywhere on the property!

Your comment about leaving some of the native brambles is a good one. I AM worried that this new path will encourage deer traffic. About 1/3 of this woodland area borders our neighbours so I had decided to remove only what was necessary (GM & Poison Ivy) to provide more of a natural barrier until I decide what to do in that area. AND it is just too much to tackle all at once.

How about the slug problem?? Most of my gardens are on very sandy dry soil so, slugs are only a minor annoyance BUT here I can see the Hostas could quickly look VERY ugly ... and 1/2 an acre of slug solutions could be expensive even if we are only talking beer. Personally, I would prefer to apply the beer internally when the situation gets to hard to take!

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 9:26AM
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I envy you and I pity you. A chance to start a new woodlands garden what an adventure. But having been there I know the pain and tribulation of the job at hand. I do not have a cure all for the slug problem but I have heard that a band of silica sand spread around the plants in a thin layer will help to keep slugs away because it is very abrasive and they can not stand it.

My suggestion is that you should take your time as you are trying out new plantings and don't be too discouraged if something does not do well maybe a change of location would make a difference. I have seen on many occasions in my woodland garden where moving something to an area that was a little more moist or had a tad more light made a world of difference.

I belive leaving some thicket is a good idea although I have seen deer in some very thick areas and inn the end clearing a path area will make a trail for them. One thing I have done is to cultivate a patch of wild blacberries at the far corner of our property to encorage the deer to stay out of our main garden areas.

In the long run I beleive that you will have to compromise along the way from what ever your original plan is on any area but in the end Mother Nature's interference most times makes for an interesting and enjoyable outcome.

At the end of the day when you look at what you have accomplished and you feel the sense of satisfaction and pride of a job well done some how the bitting flys, mosquitos, and blisters seemed to fade away and the taste of that beer always seems to be much better.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 5:16PM
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cynandjon(Z 5/6)

7 years ago we bought the 11 acres of woods behind our house. Its a combination of wetlands and uplands. We have spent the last 7 years cleaning up all the garbage that has been dumped there over the years,and thats inbetween building a house ourselves.
Garlic mustard abounds but we stop and pull it when ever we see it. Slowly we are seeing a difference. But I wish the neighbors would pull theirs also.
We also have Japanese knotweed and stilt grass. But we dont give up. LOL we take one day at a time. For every headache like slugs,flies,ticks and invasives,there are many more beautiful assets that make it worth while.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2007 at 10:08AM
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I don't attack slugs so I don't know much about how to get rid of them. Maybe the slugs have some sort of predator that you could encourage?
I have been fighting a battle with invasives since February 2002. The battle is far from over but I have seen a lot of improvement. There has also been a lot of improvement just in the prevention of further damage to the existing natives.
Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 17, 2007 at 4:50PM
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achnatherum(z4or3 Ontario)

Thanks so much to all of you for the positive encouragement! It has helped renew my enthusiasm. And, last week I took two non-gardeners on a walk through my 'new' woodland & showed them what I was doing. Although they thought it looked like a lot of work, they DIDN'T look at me as though I had lost my mind - Encouraging, no? I have been out pulling, pulling & pulling. I would say that I am better than halfway done - phew!

I am attaching a couple of pics so you can see the size of the project & the results so far.


GM in piles, a much nicer look :o) But, look at all those darn seedling ....

And two pics of the portion that I am 'gardening'

    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 7:50AM
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jclark42(z6 CT)


A word of caution from someone who has been fighting GM for a couple of years.. Those plants you've pulled and left in piles may continue to produce seed heads if they've already developed flowers. Even though the plants have been pulled they could still potentially spread seed.. Early in the year I usually pull the plants and leave them. Once they develop flowers I pull and bag them.

You've done a great job cleaning up this area. I'm sure you'll have lots of interesting natives pop up unexpectedly in the next few years. It looks great!


    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 9:13AM
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If you are crazy, then so is my hubby! About an acre of our property is wooded, too and was unused until about 4 years ago.

My parents bought this land about 19 years ago and there was a patch of trees and briars in the center that they moved for the house. The excavating company shoved it all up into the woods and the briars took hold and took over. Where there weren't briars, there were weeds up to your chest and then over time things had been ditched up there like old tires and a few burning barrels. DH cleaned it all out and cut down the dead trees and he's been cutting up the trees that fell down.

My Pap was up here about two summers ago with his tractor and backhoe digging drainage ditches for us and we had him level a spot off. We built ourselves a fire pit with large stones and we often have campfires up there. We can even take our tent up if we want! We're looking to get a picnic table and we have a swing up there under the apple tree, overlooking the rest of our property.

At the edge of the spot that Pap leveled off, is a bank that's about 2' high but then the property slopes upward up the mountain. DH and I put a few rocks in there like steps and we're planting hostas and ferns in that area.

We hav worked on seeding a majority of the area with grass and keep it mowed. It's much NICER than weeds! There is a large mound of dirt that I have been planting a few perennials on top of to hide the mound. We also put a few forsythia and small pines and other native plants and shrubs around to fill in the large open area that was left after the dead stuff was taken out.

DH has a salt block and feeder for the deer and they also come in to the apple tree in the late summer and fall.

Last week, DH made a loop up to the top of the property and back down with the four wheeler so we have a little trail!

Each year we add to the area and I just LOVE going up there. We're still on the same land as the house but it feels like a new world up there! (It may seem that way, too because we put a split rail fence right at the edge of the old property line into the woods :) ) None of our neighbors have developed their properties up that high so we're away from everything. :)

    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 9:50AM
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achnatherum(z4or3 Ontario)

Josh, the piles you see (only a few of the many) are waiting to be carted away. I am the 'puller' not the 'carter'. Last year we burned some of it along with a brush pile & that worked great. This year it is all being dumped on the edge of our ravine - only the top portion will go to seed & I hope to get that covered up. Undisturbed the seeds will be dormant in the pile - I hope it stays undisturbed for years! I couldn't bear to parcel it up in plastic bags - I am a fanatic about not bagging anything compostable. Next year when I have more time I may try running the flowering plants through the chopper before dumping - i'm sure they would heat up nicely.

And, as for natives, they are already there in abundance - that is what makes the pulling so time consuming - I hate to pull out anything nice!

Sweets, you woodland sounds absolutely lovely! Tell your hubby, "if I'm crazy, it's nice to know I have company!"

    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 10:52AM
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Count yourself lucky for the natives that are still there. On the other hand, GM eradication is easier on our property because it was quite disturbed and with a very few exceptions (wild geranium, skunk cabbage, false solomon seal, jack in the pulpit) there's nothing of real interest. This allows me to weed whack or use glyphosate in areas where they are not present.

Our practice is this. Choose a few areas to work intensively (in your case, ones where there are natives coming). Pull second year plants one by one as they send up their flower and seed stalks. You won't disturb the natives that way. In the fall, when it's still warm, but most other plants have gone dormant, glyphosate will kill GM in other areas without damaging natives (unless you've got asters and such). You can also hand pull the first year rosettes in your target areas at that time. On the borders of places you are pulling intensively, as the plants go into flower, see if you can cut a swath with a weed whacker or the like, which won't stop it but will diminish the seed forming in that area and spreading into the areas you clear.

We've mostly cleared the wooded part of our acre now (really only about 1/3 acre, effectively) doing this sort of thing. Tedious, but ultimately effective. It is essential to choose the areas you will work on most intensively for now so you don't get depressed about the whole thing. And rest assured, you'll see lots of seedlings every year for a while, but never as many adult plants.

Finally, it helps if somebody in your family has the soul of an obsessive-compulsive exterminator. For a long time, my wife didn't count a week-end complete in which she hadn't pulled a thousand GM plants.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 4:10PM
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achnatherum(z4or3 Ontario)

David, I'm glad you said that. Other that the glyphosate that is pretty much what I am doing if on a slightly larger scale. My husband does weed wack the areas that are 'plant-less'. I am trying to be sensible about the fact that I can't hand pull the entire area.
In areas where I have mulched & areas where there is a thick natural 'duff' of leaves & or needles I have noticed that the seedlings are very shallow rooted and a light scuffling is enough to kill them at this stage. Hopefully this method will keep things under control in areas where I have started planting. I'm just not sure what is going to give in first, my arm (carpel tunnel), my back, or the Garlic Mustard. My money is on the Garlic mustard!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2007 at 7:54AM
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Actually, a light hoeing does a good job on seedlings in leaf litter or evergreen needles (although I've just kicked and stomped them, too). The only problem is that, as with pulling the larger plants, it is apt to expose seeds in the soil to light, which makes more of them germinate. So for a while, it seems like you're not getting anywhere -- but you are.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2007 at 4:14PM
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playsinthedirt20(z6 HudsonValley)

Dear A-

No, you'renot nuts - just a gardener! I had a woodlands garden for a number of years which I adored. Every year, I'd dutifully rake, knock back the weeds I didn't want, encourage the one I did (violas, white woood aster) maintain paths, tend my hostas, etc. Due to a bad back and lack of time, I had decided this year to move my most prized plantings (the hostas and bleeding hearts) closer to the house, then let the whole wooded area just revert to whatever state it wants. After seeing your pictures, however, it makes me want to get back out there with the mosquitos, flies, slugs and all!

We only half half an acre total, and the wooded section accounts for about a quarter of that. But it's a nice buffer from the houses behind us, and it's nature!

As for the slugs, I tried the whole beer-trap thing. It worked, but was really labor-intensive, gross and I kept thinking I was wasting a perfectly good beverage on those creepy things. I've had some better luck with fresh wood chips from a tree that we had to have taken down. (they have really soft underbellies, so they can't crawl over anything sharp) Just be sure to leave some room around the crowns, otherwise they may rot. I've also heard that coffee grounds work, but haven't tried that yet. In early Spring, the deer think that my hostas are their salad bar. Now, I know this is gross, but it works - human urine, sprinkled on the hostas, deters deer very well.

I don't know what garlic mustard is, which means that I probably have it and think it looks pretty. I'd say, do as much as your back and knees and schedule will permit - it looks great!

    Bookmark   June 4, 2007 at 1:21AM
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terryr(z5a IL)

If you're crazy, then so are we! My husband and I have been working on my parents almost 4 acres of woods. Honeysuckle and muliflora rose rule out there. After we first cut those things down with chainsaws, we use a brush hog to go thru the area in late winter, before the spring ephemerals show up, but after the honeysuckle or multiflora rose start growing. And the dead trees? They aren't hurting anything, just leave them. Woodpeckers love them!

    Bookmark   June 5, 2007 at 7:18PM
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Coffee and coffee grounds kill slugs. You could have coffee shops collect grounds for you. Then put it in the areas with hostas. Any extra grounds would be appreciated by those rhodadendrons.

For black flies I'd consider one of those netting mosquito suits!

    Bookmark   June 6, 2007 at 1:00AM
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achnatherum(z4or3 Ontario)

I kept pulling the dreaded GM, thanks to all your encouragement AND this past Friday I finally finished the first round!!!!! The majority of this year's flowering plants have been pulled from the woodland.
I am dying to get in there & start scuffling all the seedlings BUT that will have to wait until next week. The rest of the garden has been ignored & we are expecting a large group of people this weekend for a plant sale. I guess I should get to work on that side of the garden for a change. I will post some after pictures when time allows!

PlantsInTheDirt - how sad that you had to give up your bit of woodland .. I can see that happening to me if I continue to get carried away with mine BUT ... we will enjoy it while we can.

Thanks Terry! personally, I think we are all crazy but what a way to go :o) As for the standing dead trees - I left lots but when there are too many they start to look very unsightly. And, clearing them away was what initially blazed the trail through the woods & kindled my enthusiasm (excuse the pun!).

Laura, thanks for the coffee hint - my husband drinks gallons so I will give it a try.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2007 at 6:48AM
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We have 10 acres of solid woods that we are starting to tame and I have to say, it has been much easier than we expected thanks to the use of landscaping fabric.

We clear an area of any dead fall, prune to the ground any small tree or large stem weed, use the weed whacker to knock the brush down, and then use a mulching mower to grind it all up. The area is then clear to plant whatever you want, and then simply place the fabric around your plants, put on some mulch, and Voila! no more weeds!

This method has gotten rid of garlic mustard, poison ivy, thorny wild raspberries, woodland shrubs and a bunch of other stuff that was growing. At first I was hesitant to put the fabric down, thinking is was too much work and too difficult to plant in afterward. But is was quick to lay down and very easy to cut. When you decide you want a special plant in a certain spot, you simply move back your mulch, slice an X into the fabric and you have easy access to your soil. It is great and I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to tame large areas.

This will be our 3rd year gardening in the forest and I have to say it is much more exciting than I ever imagined it would be. I thought my plant choices would be very limited but it is not true. Shade gardening is very rewarding, very beautiful and so very peaceful. Good Luck with your gardening, and so far everything you have done looks very beautiful.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2007 at 1:55PM
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This method has gotten rid of garlic mustard, poison ivy, thorny wild raspberries, woodland shrubs and a bunch of other stuff that was growing.

While it is great to get rid of the nasty stuff, some of those "woodland shrubs and other stuff" can be really good things! Plus you might have had spring ephemerals like trillium hiding under the junky stuff. They won't be able to come up through that landscape fabric. Once I cleared a bunch of japanese honeysuckle out of my woods, I found trillium the next year and have since identified native azaleas and viburnums there.

If you need help identifying things, smilingtulip, there are plenty of people on GW that can help you.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2007 at 2:31PM
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Thanks for the advice, but luckily for me, I study my area before I try to tame it. Unfortunately, I have no woodland flowers on my property. I do have some May Apple that I just love and I just worked around that area, weeding that by hand and placing down mulch and not the fabric. I also made sure that I left plenty of room for the plants to naturalize and let nature take its course.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2007 at 5:49PM
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leslies(z7 No VA)

I did the same thing on about five acres in z5NY - I did a lot of my work in the winter (poison ivy, multiflora roses, shrub honeysuckle, wild grape). No ticks, no mosquitoes, PI not leafed out, easy to see my way around, soggy places frozen over. The trick to GM is to get out there VERY early in the spring. GM gets started earlier than a lot of other woodlanders, so you have two or maybe three blessed weeks when you can use the weed wacker and RoundUp the second-year plants without worrying too much about nicer plants. Then, of course, it's time to deal with the seedlings. which are extremely resistant to Round Up. I'm not sure it's even worth trying to kill them in their first year for that reason.

You may need to Round up the regrowth once or twice anyhow on multiflora and PI. I learned, though, that it's not too hard to completely uproot the honeysuckles by just leaning on the plant until the roots snap. Back and forth a few times and the whold thing just pulls out.

Nope. You're not nuts!

P.S. Hostas in the woods might be nuts, though. Have you got deer?

    Bookmark   June 18, 2007 at 5:49PM
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achnatherum(z4or3 Ontario)

I don't use landscape fabric anywhere in my gardens and I am a 'non-chemical' user so, that means no round-up. HOWEVER ..... I really appreciate the encouragement. It is nice to know that I am either, not nuts or if I am nuts, I have lots of company :o)

With all this encouragement I have been working away and things are starting to look pretty good.

Leslie, I probably do have deer through the woods occasionally. I am trying to discourage them by building a tall brush fence & leaving the lower branches on the spruce that surround my more open wooded area. The hostas don't seem to be targeted by the wild beasties any more often than any of the other plants. Something has been 'tasting' a bit of just about everything! I can live with that. I would rather they taste the herbaceous plants & leave my new small trees alone!
thanks to all!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 8:08AM
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If you are nuts then I am too! My woods is small, maybe only 1/3 to 1/2 an acre, but it is covered with English Ivy, black raspberry bushes, wild rose, poison ivy,garlic mustard, and several obnoxious vines. I am taming it a bit at a time. My idea is to have it semi woodland. I leave the woodland mayapples, solomon seal, etc . and add some understory trees like redbuds and dogwoods, as well as hostas, astilbe, ferns, trillium, hellobores, heucheras, etc. I use tree limbs and edge paths. The paths are ground up branches. We use a leaf shredder/vacuum on our yard and the leaves get spread back in the woods after they have been shredded.

Here is a picture. Not a good one but you can see some of the paths. The rest is green from the ivy still.
I do have deer occasionally, but I use deer sprays to keep them away. Slugs have been a problem with certain hostas, but i am learning which the slugs are less apt to eat.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2007 at 10:36PM
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Where has this thread been, I cannot believe since May I did not chime in. I am on only two acres and am taming a woodland garden that is set under mainly Burr oaks. A few years ago when I began we had a discussion about fire and how that can often bring back some of the wild flowers. We debated using a blow torch to scorch the ground,after clearing. I never tried it, too scared of a possible fire, but I thought I would bring the idea up again. We just returned from a trip to Yellowstone. The wild flowers were so beautiful. I would love to find those seeds dormant in my MN garden, but I am sure the soil is so different. After 6 seasons I am no longer digging/clearing out new spaces. Now there is only the constant fight with the weeds and saplings that want to re-establish themselves. I figure it would take one maybe two seasons for my gardens to all but disappear, if I were not tending them.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2007 at 7:18AM
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I have worked on 2 acres for 3 years. It's do-able with patience. I discovered a 100' X 10' patch of bloodroot after 5 years of not noticing it, so that terrified me sufficiently to avoid round-up or landscape fabric or anything nonspecific. Most wildflowers are only visible part of the year, and there are so may that I don't know yet. I find it helps to work out from the house, so that I get bigger effect over smaller area to encourage me to push on into the rest. Many weeds are taking advantage of transition places, like new sunny areas at edges of cleared woods. I encourage shade. Limbing up little dogwoods and redbuds is as important as weeeding, to allow small natives room down near the ground. Hostas and slugs are an isssue. You might want to develop some new loves that aren't as attractive to deer and slugs. Tiarella and heuchera naturalize easily for me, and deer/slugs don't bother much.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2007 at 4:53AM
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