I’m always paying attention to how things are naturally changing. I know that every acre I own is struggling to become a forest. If left alone, everything here would be covered by tree canopy within 30 to 40 years. Helping things develop in this direction would be the easiest course of action. After 25 years of such management, I could have easily named the property Blue Jay Forest.
The presence of rare grassland plants caused me to manage for those species. These plants are an important part of this area’s history and much of the habitat they depend upon has been lost to various incompatible land uses. Managing for open areas is much more management intensive, but I believe it’s the best use of the property. The trick is in finding techniques that make it possible to create and maintain the type of ecosystem I’m after.
Most of my large scale conversion takes place in the old crop fields. When crop production ceases, there is a great collection of aggressive plants, mostly exotic weeds, that invade the area. This collection of plants can persist for years and in these areas often evolves a solid stand of Tall Fescue or Goldenrod. These two species have the ability to form solid stands that aggressively defend their growing areas against most vegetative intruders. Breaking up this plant monopoly can be a difficult job, but I’ve learned a trick that helps tremendously.
There are many mechanical techniques that I use in my management activities. A lot of these methods are very labor intensive and time consuming. When your work force is a single person, it helps to have some simple techniques that make a big difference. I noticed that Indian Grass readily colonized areas of solid Fescue or Goldenrod and would gradually outcompete these plants. The Indian Grass stand would become very thick after a few years and then would open up to allow wildflowers and other grasses to colonize. The result was a diverse stand of native grasses and forbs.
I decided to take ripe Indian Grass seed and scatter it around in the thickest of the Fescue and Goldenrod patches. That’s all it took to initiate the natural process I had been observing. After a few years there was mature Indian Grass over a big portion of the field and dozens of other native plants began moving in. There’s still a lot of other work to be done in these areas, but at least the plant population is moving in the right direction.