Thursday, July 2, 2009

Clearing an Old Fence Row

I was out checking the progress of one of my active projects that involves clearing an old fence row. Most old farms have old fence rows and Blue Jay Barrens is no exception. It’s hard to get a good photo of an old fence row because all you can see is the outside screen of vegetation. It’s important to spend time identifying the vegetation existing in the area in which you’ll be working. You must decide what is going to stay, what has got to go and how you are to accomplish the transition.

Fence rows are usually packed with invasive plant species. Fruit eating birds perch on the fence wire and posts and in their droppings are many seeds ready to germinate. Autumn Olive, Multiflora Rose, Bush Honeysuckle and Japanese Honeysuckle can quickly take over the fence row. Work in an area such as this is usually staggered over a number of years. I begin by removing the invasive species, and then I wait to see what grows back. Growth of native species is often inhibited by competition from the invasives and it may take a year or two before their presence can be detected.

My first step is to cut brush and mow the area along the edge of the field. This allows me time to see what grows back and further study what might be growing in the fence row. All of the mowing is done during the winter when the plants are dormant. Mowing at this time of year reduces the chances of inadvertently destroying any valuable plants. Winter also allows me to comfortably wear a jacket while I’m working, so the bushes don’t tear off all my skin.

As I mow, I flag cut shrubs and trees that I want to eliminate. When these stumps sprout in the spring, I spray them with glyphosate herbicide to kill the plant. Frequent rains this spring made it hard to find time to get these sprouts sprayed. This area was sprayed on a day that had a good chance of showers. I left the flags so I could refind these sprouts, just in case we did get rain and the herbicide was ineffective.

Here’s an Autumn Olive that was missed during the spraying. I don’t spray this late in the year, so this one will have to wait until next year.

This is Japanese Honeysuckle. A couple years of being mowed will weaken the plant and it will thin enough to allow other vegetation to begin growing.

It’s important to mark those plants you definitely want to save. Even if you think there’s no way you can miss seeing a particular plant, it only takes one moment of inattention or distraction and the plant is gone. When I mow an area with DR Brush, I’m looking towards the ground and a taller tree or shrub can escape my notice. That is until I hear the sound of little pieces of it passing out the mower discharge chute.

There’s a nice crop of fruit developing on this Black Haw, Viburnum prunifolium. By looking at the area several times during the growing season, you can identify those plants that you want to keep.

This is Dwarf Hackberry, Celtis tenuifolia, an uncommon tree in Ohio. The appearance is generally the same as Common Hackberry, but the margin of the leaf lacks teeth and the tree does not normally grow very tall.

I‘d like to reduce the fence rows enough to allow free movement of seed and pollinators between the different open areas. I know that there are many species of open field animals that will not approach tall vertical objects or shaded areas, but I don’t know what the minimum distance of approach would be for different species. I’ve adopted a rule of trying to create a 50 foot opening measured from edge of canopy to edge of canopy. I’ll just have to watch and see what happens.

Once I’ve evaluated the native plant population, I’ll decide how much more clearing must be done to achieve my objectives. This fence row contains several areas of Adder’s Tongue Fern, which does best in areas with some shade. This means that I’ll leave enough native trees and shrubs to provide the necessary amount of shade.

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