Novice gardner looking for woodland ideas help

BsilberzJuly 10, 2014

My family just moved into a house in the woods and I am making the landscaping of the property a hobby of mine. The property has been neglected for some years but apparently used to be in immaculate condition.
In the attached photo you can see how overgrown it has become. My first step is to knock down everything so that I can start from scratch You can see where i cleared around the steps, and top of the property toward the house in comparison to the other parts. Once I clear the rest I figured the next step is to actually kill the roots of all the weeds to prevent them from coming back. which brings me to my set of questions.

What is the best method of dee weeding this area?

Once it I eliminate the weeds, what types of planting do you recommend?
- I want to keep it mostly natural and low maintenance (ground cover and few plants/shrubs for color)
- erosion?
-when is the best time to do all the planting?

I apologize for all the questions as this is the first big landscaping project I have taken on. Any advice is greatly appreciated

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I think it really depends on your goals. If you have moved into the woods and you are hoping to extend what is growing in the woods already, i.e. you are working to rid the area of invasive, non-native plants and replace them w/natives, then you really don't need to wipe everything out. Very often what may look like messy overgrowth to some, is actually a healthy wood! In this case, I would ascertain what species you have growing on your property and go from there. If, alternatively, you are thinking of clearing some of the wooded areas and replacing what's growing in these areas with a landscaped garden, I still don't think you need to clear some research before you clear and then be selective!

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 10:13AM
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Congrats, bsilberz, on your new purchase! Your property looks like a really nice setting! We have been DIY'ers on our wooded lot and, our yard and projects have provided us many, many hours of weekend projects, planning and, now, finally, 7 years later, some weekends of just pure enjoyment (no work and just hammock time!). We are not done by any means, but that is part of the overall process!

Here are my thoughts that I wish I had been told when I started to tackle our woods:

1-Unless you have a specific project in mind (eg, creating a little sitting area in a special spot or something), I would highly recommend living with your year for an entire year. Take notes, take pictures (lots and lots of pictures!) at all times of the year, times of the day, and take note of what you like and don't like about certain areas.

2-Visit as many gardens similar to your terrain as possible to get ideas. The best way for this specific purpose is through the Garden Conservancy Open Days. For $5, you can go into gardens of people in your "neck of the woods". I look at the descriptions of the gardens in my area for key words like woodland, deer resistant, water feature, rocky, etc. These are all things of interest to us. Again, take notes and ask questions. Many times the owner is on site to answer Qs. You are not supposed to take photos, but I sketch a visual reminder for myself on my notepad. And I have found this site, Gardenweb, to be an invaluable source of advice and information! :-)

3-Speaking of notes, I keep a notebook and files of pictures from magazines. Some of these pages are so tattered at this point! Anyhow, It's funny how I think I have a great idea, but then after thinking on it a little more I will think of a modified way to do something or come across a better idea for an area altogether. I guess it's similar to the "measure twice, cut once" theory of sewing or woodworking.

4-Consider what you can truly do yourself, or what you need to hire out. This will help in budgeting. We needed to address some drainage from the start, and since large machinery was involved, I am so happy I hadn't planted a pretty garden area that got run over. Consider what needs to be done in what order, again not only from an access perspective, but also budget.

5-Speaking of order, I mentioned drainage. Our first project wasn't really landscaping, but rather, having a french drain installed along the back of the house, between the woodlands and the yard. This led to the next project of adding a swale to catch the water run-off from the hill. This led to a water feature being made from our original DIY dry creek bed. It evolves, you see! This allowed us to get the "bones" in place to work around in key areas. Admittedly, it was completely overwhelming trying to plan things out before we had our water feature installed. It really anchored our whole plan.

6-And, more "bones": We created paths from smaller trees that we thinned out. These also provided a lot of structure and allowed us to address smaller areas where we could see true progress when planting out. Some good advice we got from a fellow gardener was to situate the paths to point toward key focal points...a really pretty rhodendendron, a bench, etc.

7-Definitely consider where you will create your compost or brush pile early on! It needs to be accessible but hidden :-). We are lucky that we can take our brush to our town dump, especially since we had so much, more than we could compost on site. One summer when we were thinning the smaller trees, that was our sole task....cut trees, use loppers to clean of small branches from big trunk, take brush to dump. Literally, all summer!

8-Regarding your weed question,I echo what adidas said: what someone may consider a weed, may in fact, turn out to be a native. This goes back to the "live with it awhile" advice from earlier. It will allow you to study and monitor. I have become a novice weed expert and would never have guessed I would become so obsessed on that front! You will see a lot of the posters on this site will be conservative in their use of weed killers, and rightly so. The wildlife in the woods don't need poison :-). Get a good weed whacker, clear areas of weeds and plant natives that work in your plan and future weeds should stay at bay! We love ferns because they are free since we can transplant from other parts of our yard, and they multiply nicely on their own. Which brings me to the last bit of advice....

9-Timing is everything! You asked about when to plant, and no matter what you do, work WITH Mother Nature instead of against her. :-). Usually, you hear "Fall is for planting" as plants set roots then; however, in the case of ferns, you need to transplant them when they come up as little fiddleheads in the spring. Dividing perennials will also vary, some do better when divided before they out new growth in the spring. I always keep notes of what I need to do in the current season, and the next year during the same season.

10-OK, one last bit of advice, promise...If you have deer, don't even consider trying to plant anything they like, and think you will be able to spray to deter them. That, my friend, is a losing battle from the start! :-)

Good luck! Please keep us posted on your progress! This is an exciting adventure you are going to start....oh, and make sure you have plenty of pain reliever pills on hand! :-)

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 10:44AM
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thanks for your advice guys. I really have no landscaping background except the occasional mulching or weeding job when I was younger to make some extra money so all the recommendations are much appreciated.

I plan on continuing knocking down much of the overgrowth as it is a bit of an eye sore. As I continue on i keep finding ferns and ground cover that I leave as is.

I have even found some old lights and retaining walls hidden in the brush. I wish I could get some old photographs from the previous owner!

(thanks to your advice) I am going to just let the property sit for the most part so I can see what im dealing with throughout the seasons. Im excited to see what the falland winter have in-store


    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 10:59AM
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I know the excitement you have, moving into the property you really love. It looks like you've done a really nice job and do not really do much more.

Your garden project takes years to take shape. Best do it naturally and try to keep as much plants as you can because most of them are already tested. A few things you can do year around:

1. Rid of the undesirable woody plants, such as multiflora rose, poison ivy, Jap honeysuckle and the seedlings in the wrong places. Spray around-up to kill the entire plants.

2. Leave as much as you can, particularly the sloping areas.

3. Plant selectively a few small trees of ornamental values, such as magnolia, red bud, etc. But keep it very selective. You can also move the seedlings to the desired place you wish.

4. In spring, spread some annual flower seeds if you like.

It really depends on the style and the effect you'd like to achieve. Most of the people would like to keep it low-maintenance and keep it natural.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 2:30PM
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Don't rake away pine needles. They make a great mulch. My parent's summer place had a lot of erosion after someone raked away the pine needles.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 10:02PM
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I agree that you need to sit with your woodland for a year to see it in all seasons. After that and if you still want a natural looking woodland garden, use contrast and size to bring things out. Lime green (I'm thinking a huge lime green hosta, like Sum & Substance), against some purple astilbes -- that kind of thing. Lots of ferns (if you have them, keep them!), other large and small hosta, Japanese painted ferns, etc. Plant just a few things each year and wait and see how you like it. What's great about a garden is that it's very fluid -- if you don't like something in one place, you can dig it up and move it somewhere else.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 5:49PM
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Yes, a year may allow you to find something that you would have ripped out, without realizing it's value.
Try to identify everything.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 6:34PM
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I've been in the most absolutely degraded-looking patches of woods-full of buckthorn, garlic mustard, trash, and any other assorted weed there is, only to be blown away by the remnant population of springtime forbs. Sometimes this was because of a wetland delineation I was doing, other times more random, but the point is, there's likely to be lots of good stuff in there, if one will take the time-and allow the time-to learn what's there.


    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 7:52AM
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