Can I mow my woodland garden?

CatGrass(z4 Wi)June 14, 2005

Hello - this is my first year with a woodland garden. Actually, I have had it for two years but never bothered to look at it the first year. My question is this, can I mow the woodland garden without harm to the spring ephemerals? The garden is a natural woodland of about 1/2 acre - there are more woods, but this particular half acre is my 'yard'. It is overrun with weeds; burdock, garlic mustard (all pulled before seed) etc. I am sure there are sedges and other grasses that are right to be there - but I cant tell what belongs and what doesn't for the most part.

I don't really know much about woodland gardens, though I enjoyed the spring plants and have been reading up as much as I can find.

I sure would like to mow it though - is that bad?

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waplummer(Z5 NY)

Create some paths through your woodland. Any and all desirable plants in the path dig up and transplant in your woods. Then you could remove any shrubs or tree seedlings and do likewise. Next take a weed whacker to the path to clear it of undesirable plants. You could also use round-up to kill the unwanted plants. Some people suggest putting a mulch down on the paths, but mine are just bare dirt that in many spots are moss-covered.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2005 at 10:32PM
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Many native plants that have set seed, have not gone dormant yet, such as Trillium, Bloodroot, Rue Anemone and a host of other desirable woodland plants. If you cut those now, before the seed have matured, you will have lost a valuable source of future plants for your woodlands. I would identify and remove undesirable plants and shrubs and as Waplummer suggested, create paths so that you can walk through the area without trampling the natives you want to keep. Avoid vertical paths on slopes, a source of soil erosion. I visited a friend's woodland garden(20 acres) yesterday, very unkept, but with clearly defined paths, and he was in the process of removing some alien plants that was threatning a colony of natives.
He also pointed out several natives that have emerged or re-emerged in the woodlands during recent years. A woodlands is a constantly evolving ecosystem and IMHO, should be left undisturbed, as much as possible.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2005 at 11:24AM
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knottyceltic(S/W Ontario 5b)

I wouldn't recommend mowing particularly for the reasons given above that the nice stuff still needs to feed it's seeds and bulbs in order to produce for you next year.

My property sounds similar to yours in a way that ours is in an old farm woodlot but inside the city. I'm near the edge of the woodlot so you can actually see through to the other side but we are working on building up the lower and mid sections of the woods to provide more privacy. I'm not sure how big 1/2 acre is but it's surely much bigger than what we have. Here is a picture:

When we moved here our woods was a MESS, full of trees felled by the builder, garbage from the city, garbage from the old farm etc. We had 2 major invasive alien plants 1) Oriental Bittersweet carpeting in a woven mat throughout our property and 2)Garlic Mustard by the thousands maybe even tens of thousands. It took us most of the year and a half we've lived here and almost all our free time to remove those two alien invasives but now that it's done we are soooo proud of ourselves. We took it all out by hand on hands and knees and now we are only dealing with the odd seedling that managed to sneak by us. Of course with both in the woods and on the properties/lots to either side and behind us, we will always have to watch out for it but at least the worst of it is gone now. We also had poison ivy but we totally lucked out that not ONE plant was growing on our property and the only one we've ever found had made it's way under our privacy fence from the neighbor's house (they didn't know what it looked like).

The next thing we did after removing all the alien stuff was to put paths. Paths are great. It keeps people from trampling the "good stuff" and adds a bit of "fun" and "whimsy" to your back yard to have a miniature walking trail right outside your door. Our paths are also just plain dirt. We thought of putting mulch but we don't need it because our soil is clay and sand so no water stays at the surface to make "muck"'s always dry.

We put in a fire pit (legal in this city) and made some sitting areas and a spot to hang a hammock with special flowers and woodland shrubs nearby for interest.

We've since added a TON of native woodland plants, ferns, shrubs and trees which you can't really appreciate from that photo above taken this past spring but we've really added a lot of stuff for the small space there is here.

Anyway, getting back to your original question, no I wouldn't mow it. Go on hands and knees and pluck out the bad stuff, make note of things that you want to stay and make a natural garden plan either in your head or on paper of where you want things to go. I think you'll be much happier with the result if you do it by hand. You'll have very few seedlings if you keep ahead of flowers going to seed, the overall appearance will look much better and you will find that the natural native plants will move in on their own to fill in a lot of the dead space left by the missing things like Garlic Mustard.

Let us know how things go :o)

southern Ontario, CANADA zone 6a

    Bookmark   June 15, 2005 at 12:57PM
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CatGrass(z4 Wi)

thanks all for the advice. I will start with paths. Maybe this weekend I will take some pictures and post - you will fall out of your chair when you see how neglected this 'garden' is.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2005 at 7:08AM
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Many spring-blooming woodland plants do go dormant, as mentioned above, but most are not dormant yet. Also, there are many native fall bloomers, such as woodland asters, goldenrods, and lobelia. Those guys don't want to be mowed down now!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2005 at 2:14PM
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I am in the same stages. We mowed about 1/2 of the nasty weeds and now I've mowed several paths through the woodland, trying hard to avoid the jacks, bluebells, and others. My next goal is to clean up each area by getting rid of the weeds and grasses. I've just requested the book "Making paths" from the library.

List, be prepared to see lots of photos for plant identification!!

Here is a link that might be useful: My garden path

    Bookmark   June 21, 2005 at 9:43PM
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linda_schreiber(z5/6 MI)

Hi, Cat
>you will fall out of your chair when you see how neglected this 'garden' is.Believe me, I do understand. Boy, do I!! And I suspect that a couple of months ago, it seemed like a really hefty but maybe doable project for this year... and then the area became a jungle very very fast! And it now seems totally *overwhelming*! Mowing is not a good plan...

Been there, several times, over 25 yrs. Take a deep breath. It won't be 'really good' this year, but it can be much, much better this year, and next spring will be much more manageable. Then you can have more fun with it. This year, you can get to satisfying solid progress, and an area you can walk through at the end of the day and actually enjoy the walk! There are worse things [grin].

I agree with the others that you want to start with 'where do you want paths'. But I would disagree with the level of work suggested to make these happen.... You may probably want to do your paths in a similar fashion at some point in the future. But for now, you need to be able to see "progress"/"results". Things need to be less overwhelming.

I would take a shovel to the paths you want. It is actually worth the work to chunk out the vegetation in the path. If you have a half acre, there has to be a place where you can dump soil and weeds in a big heap, and let them be... This is a "cold compost" system. Works wonderfully [big grins].

Then start buying, gradually, bags of really cheap mulch. Cheap cedar shred or whatever works fine. Spread it on your path, at least two inches deep. Not enough for the long term, but when tromped, it buys you time into next year or the next spring.

And there is a feeling of 'establishing some sort of order' in the laying and further tromping of a path.... Satisfying.

Find the big weeds that you know are a problem.... Or the small weeds that are big probems. The burdocks, garlic mustards, pokeweeds, runners grasses, goldenrods... Dig them out! Watch for seedings. Pull them. Put them into the "cold compost" heap [vicious evil grin]. Let the rest be. You never know what might be there.

That's enough for this year. Let all the rest go. Stick a comfy chair along your temporary path..... Relax. Listen to birds, breezes, [ignore the whiny neighbor kids]

No matter how much you itch to create order here..... Don't mow!! Thanks.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2005 at 9:55PM
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Several years ago I started working on my sideyard, that up until that point for the 40 years I had been there, were nothing but woods that the girls use to hide in come supper time! Over time I have managed to trim down the small branches and build up the slanted soil. My favorite, newspaper piles covered with leaves and then bark mulch (in the beginning. Every year I put the leaves in the same area. I now have a beautiful seating area for six or more, a trail that leads from the driveway (designed for oilman) past sitting area behind the back of shed down into the back yard. Even have an off shoot so the neighborhood kids "our gang" can sneak around the back fence. I have used extension cords and flood lights on a timer, radio and water fountain. I am off on a private way, so no immediate neighbors to be concerned about. Can I tell you how many times I just sit there and watch the grass grow and on these wonderful nights with a glass of wine and just rock and rock and smile. I did it with my own little hands and proud of it. I have mowed some areas over the years, but eventually it will have to be hand pulled. I had a chiminea by my table for the fall but moved it as it frightened me that the flames went too high. enjoy

    Bookmark   June 24, 2005 at 4:15PM
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