How would you create this 'mini' woodland ?

Lauren_StL(z5/6 Mo)June 3, 2005

Hi there! I'm normally over in perennials, but have been popping in here lately and have really appreciated your knowledge on woodland plants. We live in the city, so I'm quite jealous of those of you who have real land. We have an area of our yard that we're getting ready to try to convert into a mini woodland for our kids - reminiscent of the real woods and creeks we got to play in growing up. The area is on a slope and has plenty of mature shade trees already established (oak, hickory mainly). It also has two mature dogwoods and we've planted 5 redbud seedlings last year. The ground right now is just a sad excuse for a lawn, but it does keep the erosion down.

So, how would you suggest that we go about laying this out? Do I kill all the grass that's there? Do I mulch over everything? I want to have some intertwining paths, do I lay those out now? As you can see, I'm just not sure the best way to get started, and I don't want to look back in 5 years and say, "hmm - I really screwed that one up!"

Thanks again for already educating me on the woodlands gardening idea, and TIA for help on this.

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Judy_B_ON(Ontario 5B)

Lay out the paths you want, dig out paths to about 6" deep, line with landscape fabric, edge with black edging and fill in with 8" of limestone screenings (it will compact down to 6"). This will keep the paths defined and relatively weed free.

Spray the remaining grass with Round up (do not get any Round up on desirable trees/ shrubs), wait a week and respray any grass patches that do not turn yellow. Cover the dying grass with 3"-4" of mulch (do not rototill or dig grass).

One week after the last application of Round Up, you can start to plant woodland plants into the mulch as your budget allows. You will need to do some minor weeding once or twice a month.

If you don't want to use Round Up, you can kill the grass by covering with 6-8 sheets of newspaper, wetting the newspaper and covering it with 4"-6" of mulch. Wait six to eight weeks for the grass to die, then you can plant through the mulch and newspaper.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2005 at 2:21PM
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Lauren_StL(z5/6 Mo)


Thanks so much for the advice. You've given me a lot of good directions so hopefully this will go relativley smoothly. I wouldn't have thought to lay out the paths like that and probably would have ended up with weeds all throughout. Thanks!


    Bookmark   June 4, 2005 at 11:51PM
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I have killed the grass for my gardens in three different ways, depending on the size (none are very large): dig it out (it's shallow rooted, so for a small area that's quite feasible--we dug up each clump, shook off all the soil, and composted the remaining grass and roots), kill it with mulch (4-6 inches of shredded bark will do it, but it takes a season), and kill it by planting trees that gradually grew to completely shade it out (takes a couple of years). Admittedly none of my grass was ever thick and lush.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2005 at 12:36PM
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Lauren_StL(z5/6 Mo)


Thanks for the alternatives. This area is already well shaded, so maybe if we just left it alone and didn't even try to water it this summer, it might die out on its own. We just have to be careful, because it is on a hill so I don't want to create more erosion. I, again, appreciate the help.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2005 at 5:54PM
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knottyceltic(S/W Ontario 5b)

I agree with the first poster who said to put your paths in first. That was my first step too. Then if you are worried about erosion why not work on your woods area in "phases". Stand out there with your husband and just visually scan over the area and come up with a mutual consensus on how much you can physically tackle and finacially tackle in one growing season. Then take one phase per year and dig in. That way phase one will be established while you work on phase 2 and phase 3 will still be grass so no eriosion can take place. If the area is small and managable to do in on growing season (this year) then I wouldn't worry about erosion at all, just go at it and create your woods like it would occur in nature with "natural succession" as well as "height variance" inside the woods.

For natural succession you want to stand outside your proposed woods area and choose species of plants, shrubs and small trees that will create a succession of heights and protection for the plants, shrubs and trees INSIDE the woods. Drive out to the country just outside your city and with a notepad mark down what you see... likely grasses followed by native and unfortunately alien invasive flowers/weeds, followed by low scrubby shrubs and vines, then short trees/tall shrubs and then finally your tall trees which you already have established in your city dwelling.

Inside the woods you want to create levels of plant life under the canopy of your mature trees to make it into a more realisitc "woods". To do this you need to research the kinds of plants, mosses, fungi, ferns, shrubs and trees that will grow under the canopy and place things in a pleasing manner inside the woods. Generally in a city woodland you'll want to place shrubs that grow quite large to the edges of your woods or in more unassuming places or places where you want to create a private little "nook". Surround those with smaller shrubs and then find places where items like ferns and wild flowers will look as thought they'd just grown there naturally for hundreds of years. ie. place ferns in low depressions and in the notches where tree roots emerge from the trunk of a tree or beside a large rock or a decaying tree trunk or branch. A real woods also has leaf litter, twigs and branches so clear them from your paths in the fall but toss them out into your wooded area for a more realistic look, an invite to the birds to perch on and organic material that can eventually feed the soil. Rocks with moss on them will create a tiny little ecosystem of it's own and beg for a woodland plant to be established right next to it so that it can drop water on it and feed the moss.

My husband and I also have a city property with a bit of woods on it so we have cleaned it up, put paths in and are restoring it to "all native plants, shrubs and trees". We didn't have grass and we had a few alien invasives so it took us a year and a half to get rid of those but we've put a LOT of stuff into our little piece of heaven in a real short time and we are really enjoying it.

Good luck with your project and keep us updated on how you are doing.

Southern Ontario, CANADA Zone 6a

    Bookmark   June 8, 2005 at 12:50PM
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ahughes798(z5 IL)

Depending on the ambient temps...Roundup can take longer than a week to kill what you spray it on, BTW. Between 50-80 degrees F is ideal. Any lower than 50, and the plant slows down it's processes to compensate for the cold. Any higher than 80, and it's the same thing. I've had plants take 2 or 3 weeks to die from using Round-up, and I've had it work in a week. Do NOT use Round up in a stronger solution...more is not better in this case. I wouldn't plant plants in an area that had been Round-Upped less than 3 weeks after the last application. better safe than sorry. April

    Bookmark   June 9, 2005 at 11:53PM
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Lauren_StL(z5/6 Mo)

Barb & April,

Thanks for some more excellent advice. We were just out there this evening. Mainly me enthusiastically waving my hands and my husband silently assessing what this was going to do to his back and bank account! :) The area is small enough that we can do this in one season. I'm getting excited looking at all the neat woodland plants that I've never had a chance to work with before. I'm also excited about placing these paths for our kids to explore.

I imagine we'll be using the mulch method to get rid of the grass. There's not a ton there and we're concerned that if we killed the grass using roundup that there would be a lot of erosion before we could get the plants established. So I think we going to bring in some soil to slightly berm a few areas of the hillside to slow down the water, but not be obviously bermed --certainly wouldn't look very "woodland like" with berms. Anyway (can you see how excited I am about this?) I know this isn't techically the topic of my post, but any of you all have any suggestions for "easy" woodland plants to certainly start with and include in this new woodland area, I'd appreciate it greatly!


    Bookmark   June 13, 2005 at 10:23PM
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Fledgeling_(4b SD)

well it depends on how much the canopy shades out the ground below... there are native savanah grasses (not all grass in a woodland is bad!) but lawn grass isnt one.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2005 at 12:15AM
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You might want to consider using small logs , tree branches etc or rocks instead of soil if you are concerned about runoff. I would start at the top of the slope and work down. That way you are not climbing over what you have already done. Violets are great in shade. Blue eyed grass in partial shade. Ground ivy is a good ground cover(is this native, I am not sure). Wild ginger works in shade.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2005 at 12:39AM
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