Saturday, September 15, 2007

Working the Woodlot

First of all, The Woodlot is not a true woodlot, i.e. a few acres devoted to growing a sustainable source of firewood for a home. The Woodlot is what we call the section (1/2 acre?) of our place that we are naturalizing -- trying to return what has been a yard for the last 25 years to a small slice of woods with trees, an understory, and small woodland plants. We'd like to see it become a refuge for small wild animals, although we know that it is pretty small for that purpose and that its location next to a country road probably doesn't make it an ideal candidate.

We started this project 2 1/2 years ago. My husband and I had talked almost from the day we bought the place in 1994 about establishing woods between us and the road, but there always seemed to be another project that was more pressing. Then, the couple that owned the 7 acres across the road from us decided to build a mini-storage facility, complete with lights, traffic, and ugly buildings. Because we had no county zoning laws at the time, our phone calls and visits to planning commission meetings were to no avail. So we decided it was time to start those woods.

Fortunately, we were not starting completely from scratch. In 1995, I had set out 2 maples and 2 oaks directly in front of our house, set back enough from the road to avoid the right-of-way. Those trees are pretty tall now and help block the ugly view from the front of our house. At the same time, I had set out a cypress in the southwest corner of the yard, 4 sawtooth oaks along the south fenceline, and a wild pecan between the house and the sawtooth oaks. Those trees, along with 4 maples along the drive that were established young trees when we arrived here form the backbone of The Woodlot.

The first thing we did was to stop mowing the area we designated to naturalize. We marked off an L-shaped area that parallels the country road in front of our place and our south fenceline. We also began setting out young trees -- mostly maples, sawtooth oaks, pecans, and cedars -- that volunteered in our gardens and under our existing trees. The first summer we placed those trees primarily along the inner perimeter of The Woodlot. We watered and weeded around the trees and probably got 3/4's of the trees through the first hot and very dry summer.

That fall, we gathered acorns and tree and bush seeds whenever we went for walks. We planted them. Some came up, but not many.

The second summer, we mowed a path about ten feet from the yard along the county road leg of the Woodlot and a second path along the south fenceline. These grass paths allowed us to set out trees further into the lot and to water those during the dry summer months.

This spring break, my mother came to visit and I showed her the trees which had been coming up and growing throughout The Woodlot, promising a house-high stand of trees much sooner than we had anticipated. While I had been encouraged, I was beginning to become concerned about the large number of these trees and how fast they were growing. My mother was unable to identify the tree, but advised me to get rid of it while I still could. She said anything that grows that fast and spreads that easily is bound to be a weed tree. The next week, I cut down one of the small specimens and carried it to work, where I showed it to several biology teachers and agriculture teachers at a faculty meeting. They identified it as a Callery pear, the root stock for the ubiquitous Bradford pear and the result of the supposedly sterile Bradford pear producing seed from shoots from the original stock. I'm not sure I have that explanation completely right, but basically the Bradford pear is making seed that the birds are spreading and the resulting Callery pears are taking over in our region wherever they can gain a foothold.

So, I've been fighting the Callery pear ever since. I can't spend ALL my time snipping off trees and treating their stubs with Round-Up, but I've spent a lot of time doing it. I stopped counting at 150 trees. And I'll be doing it a lot more.

And I've declared war on the Johnson grass, but that's another story.

This spring, I created more mowed paths to allow further access for planting, watering, and weeding. The paths also provide a great place for my daughter to play. I then set out 2 named elderberry bushes, 2 Chinese Chestnuts, 1 white mulberry, and 1 highbush cranberry. I've watered those as needed this summer, and they have come through the heat well. I'd like The Woodlot to be multi-purpose, providing food for us and the animals, as well as creating a wonderful slice of woods for us to enjoy.

Today, I went to the farmer's market to buy tomatoes (but there were none), and I came home with a pawpaw tree and a French mulberry, which I set out this afternoon. (The weather was glorious for gardening.) The gentleman who sold me the pawpaw predicted 5 years before it will bear fruit. The French mulberry, which I learned is also called a beautybush here, won't produce edible berries, of course, but I look forward to the beautiful purple berries each fall.
I also set out a sweet bay magnolia that I bought on sale this summer and kept in the pot while I waited for cool weather.

I had more to set out, but the rains finally came and chased me indoors. So, right now, I'm writing, my daughter is reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the 6th time, the cats are taking their much needed late-afternoon nap, the dog is waiting for someone to throw the tennis ball some more, and my husband is studying. It's a great Saturday!

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