Living on a Wooded Lot Means a Life of Stewardship and Endless Battles Against Buckthorn

Living on a Wooded Lot Means a Life of Stewardship and Endless Battles Against Buckthorn
Beautiful or unhealthy? These woods are filled with invasive buckthorn.

When my husband and I moved onto our wooded acre, complete with pond, nearly 20 years ago, I had no idea that we were about to adopt a lifestyle that would have me become a part-time lumberjack with a rather impressive knowledge of how to identify and treat poison ivy.

As it turns out, 'the woods' do not take care of themselves as I naively thought. Nor do county forest rangers happen by to serve as clean up crew when invasive species threaten to take over. And threaten take over, they do.

A may apple blossom sweetly resting on some poison ivy leaves.

A may apple blossom sweetly resting on some poison ivy leaves.

The good news is, despite my not having a very big stature, I quite enjoy sawing down trees and I REALLY enjoy putting some hurtin' on poison ivy.  However, in my mid 50's I can tell that it takes a bit more time to saw through a log and the knobbiness of some of my knuckles tells me that I need to start planning ahead for the day when all this hacking and whacking might be more than I can keep up with.  I have seen the gardens of more than one elderly person succumb to neglect (my father's comes to mind). They are not only unsightly but, of greater concern is how unhealthy they are as invasive species take over and find ways to stream out into the surrounding landscape.

And so, I have been forced to take a good hard look at my arch nemesis: Buckthorn.

OH, do we have buckthorn on our lot. It is all over our area, lining bike trails and crowding out slower growing native trees in our forest preserves. They drop purple berries by the thousands which are gobbled up by birds. That may not be so bad except for the rather diarrhetic effect which basically turns birds into seed depositing machines every where the go (literally).

It's considered a noxious weed in many places like Minnesota, where it once arrived from Europe as it makes such a great hedge (i.e. it becomes impenetrable).  Oh yeah, in case you were wondering, rumor has it the Swedes also brought dandelions over since they pretty up the landscape so much. How I married a Minnesotan with such a dubious landscaping history among his people is a head-shaker, except for the 'he's really awesome' part.

Privacy hedge is what those who brought buckthorn from Europe were trying to achieve.

Privacy hedge is what those who brought buckthorn from Europe were trying to achieve.

I have been taking smaller buckthorns out for years (and had a good laugh when a friend asked me how I could 'still' be doing so, after all this time).  But this year...this year I have been forced to look UP. Up to the proper sized TREES that, yes, have provided us much appreciated privacy, but have also been hiding the fact that we have quite a lovely hickory woods smashed in between all the invaders.

My favorite spot to sit is basically under a canopy of buckthorn. All the dark trunks you see would have to go if I really wanted a healthy woodland lot.

My favorite spot to sit is basically under a canopy of buckthorn. All the dark trunks you see would have to go if I really wanted a healthy woodland lot.

I don't anticipate become younger, stronger or wealthier in the years ahead which means THIS is the year to begin truly rehabilitating this humble acre.  It is a bit daunting as every time I remove ten trees, my tree count actually INCREASES when I re-survey our lot. Between professional removal and my sawing, I'll bet I have removed 50 trees this Spring and I still have close to a hundred to go.

This may be a native dogwood. One of the many shrubs I have discovered and awaits identification.

This may be a native dogwood. One of the many shrubs I have discovered and awaits identification.

Did I mention I've put myself on a six year plan? I'd like to have a buckthorn-free lot by the time I turn 60.  Of course, there will always be saplings (reference the birds mentioned earlier), but at least we don't need to have our own buckthorn farm and the native trees will have a fighting chance.

Jack-in-the-pulpit

Jack-in-the-pulpit

In the process of tackling the first round of removal, I made some great discoveries.

I have jack-in-the-pulpit in two places. They take three years to bloom so they have clearly been on our lot a while but I had no idea.  We have several blooming shrubs which I have to identify (hoping they are 'good guys').

Want more of a tour? Here you go:

Want to see the transformation as we go? I'm hoping I can also get a photo of our resident red fox for you. It comes by often but it's fast! To keep up here, simply type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Filed under: Woodland Restoration

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