It has been a couple of years since I’ve done any large-scale field mowing with the brush mowers. For about 12 years I followed a planned three year rotation that had me mowing five to seven acres each year. The sole reason for the mowing was to locate and eliminate trees and shrubs invading the field. I purchased my first DR field and brush mower in 1992. That mower, which I refer to as the DR or The Doctor, followed the old Bachtold Brothers design. The DR was lightweight and would mow practically anywhere, but only had one speed, moderately slow, and with age its performance began to decline. In 2009 I purchased the newer model shown above, which I generally referred to as JR or Junior. JR took over the duties of field mowing while the DR retired to more lightweight duties.
When I first began mowing fields, I would mow over the invasive plant and mark the location of the stump using a 4”x5” red plastic flag mounted atop a 3 foot wire shaft. In the early years I was averaging about 750 flags per acre. Mowing was done in November and December, and I would return to the fields in April or May to apply glyphosate herbicide to the developing stump sprouts. This strategy worked extremely well in fields that were experiencing a heavy infestation of invasive woody plants. In recent years, most areas of the fields are experiencing invasion rates low enough to allow me to individually treat the invaders without a wholesale mowing of the field. Most of my current mowing is done in small isolated areas that still require a more heavy-handed management approach.
Here is a good example of a small area requiring some special attention. This long triangular area wedged between an old fence row and an intermittent Creek has some special needs that are best met by mowing. This end of the field is crowded with Dwarf Sumac. If left unchallenged, it would eventually create an impenetrable thicket. The far end of the field was once a multiflora rose jungle. I use blue flags to call attention to special features such as holes, rocks, old fence wire, or plants that should be left untouched. In this case the blue flag identifies a small oak that is to remain in this field.
The finished product. The mowing does not kill the sumacs. After two or three mowing seasons they will once again reach the point where they will need to be knocked back. Managed in this way the sumacs pose no threat to the tallgrass or other prairie vegetation, but they are still able to produce food for the various leaf and seed eaters that seem to prefer this species.
A photo taken from this angle 10 years ago would have shown nothing but a solid wall of multiflora rose inches from your face. I have many photos of that type, but they are virtually useless as helpful before photos for documentation purposes. The massive roses went up to the point where the light-colored grass begins. Since old seeds continue to sprout to produce new plants in this location, I mow it at least every other year to help locate the new multiflora rose plants. The red flags identify young multiflora rose plants that need to be treated with herbicide. Only eight rose plants were found in this one third acre field this year. The blue ribbon marks one of several native rose plants that I am trying to encourage.
The area around the main trailhead is mowed each year. This is one of only two areas that get such attention on an annual basis.
A mixed bag of invasive shrubs once grew here, but now I only have to deal with the occasional new recruit. My primary reason for continuing to mow this small patch is to get rid of the scattered tallgrass and plant stalks that interfere with enjoying the wildflower displays occurring here during spring and early summer. The Monarda bloom is especially attractive. The floral display along with its attendant butterflies should not be sullied by a mass of year-old stalks and stems.
It’s nice to have reached a point where large-scale mowing is no longer necessary to achieve my management objectives, but I kind of miss the activity. It was good exercise and I found it relaxing to spend the day just walking round and round and round the field. Fortunately, I have plenty of other work to fill up those hours no longer needed for mowing activities.