Sunday, January 26, 2014

Projects 2013 - Cedar Maintenance

Management of natural biological systems begins with an effort to set ecological conditions at a point that will allow for a natural progression toward a desired end.  Once that point is reached, maintenance is required to remove obstacles that would slow progress toward the planned outcome.  Many areas at Blue Jay Barrens are managed for the development of healthy grassland or prairie ecosystems and are doing quite nicely.  The major threat to their continued development is crowding and shading by invading Eastern Red Cedar.

Young cedars develop quickly.  At an age of about 5 years they become large enough to begin producing a dead zone in the shade of their thick foliage.  In order to avoid negative impacts, the cedars must be sought out and removed. 

The hunt for young cedars becomes more difficult in tall grass, especially when that grass has been laid over by heavy snow and strong winds.

The search may be a challenge, but dealing with the cedar is easy.

Cutting the cedar off at ground level is all it takes to be rid of the pest.  As long as there are no green branches left on the stump, the cedar will not regrow.
I give each cedar a flip to make sure it has been properly cut.  Reaching down with long handled pruners results in a diagonal cut that can sometimes leave shallow growing roots still attached to the tree top.  A tree left in this condition will continue to grow.

Young cedars typically don’t suffer much damage from predators.  In one area of the field I found about 30 plants that appeared to have had their bark removed by a hungry vole.  I’m guessing that many of these debarked cedars would die.  Maybe this vole will pass on its appetite for cedars to its offspring. 

Invading plants come from seeds left by birds feeding on the berry-like cones of mature Eastern Red Cedar.  The bird’s intestinal juices weaken the seed coat and allow for easy germination.  Birds that feed from the cedars and also spend time foraging in the open fields, such as Starlings and Robins, spread the seeds with their droppings.

Seed drop is particularly prevalent along the power line right-of-way.  Birds perch on the wires after feeding and drop an enormous load of seeds.

My long handled pruners add perspective to this shot of young cedars crowded beneath the electric line.  Working in areas like this can be awfully frustrating as you cut cedars one-by-one from a seemingly endless thicket of small shrubs.

In order to organize my search pattern through the field, I use my brush mower to create a grid pattern.  This way I can work one block at a time and reduce the risk of missing a part of the field.

Grid boundaries are marked by several permanent structures, so it is easy to recreate the same pattern. 

Reproducing the placement of grid lines allows me to compare notes of current cedar density and other conditions for each block with earlier maintenance activities.

Within each block, I use brightly marked stakes to guide my search.

Two lines of stakes are used.  The line on the trailing edge is moved forward as I complete my search of each section.  Width of my search corridor depends on the thickness of the vegetation and the difficulty in seeing the small cedars.

In some cases I will leave the cut cedars to decompose in the field.  At other times I’ll remove them to one of the brush piles.  The quantity of cedars looks much greater when it’s brought into the open and concentrated in one area.

The completed area on the left looks much cleaner than the uncut portion on the right.  Utilizing the grid pattern also gives a sense of accomplishment as each block is completed.  During the winter of 2013 I spent just over 120 hours completing cedar maintenance on 19.3 acres.  This sets my pace at a little more than 6 hours per acre. 

Short grass areas are easier to work.  Instead of cutting a grid pattern, I use stakes to create a base line.  Rows of flags mark the boundaries between search corridors.  Short grass makes the cedars more visible, so I’m typically cutting smaller plants.

I’ll cut every cedar I can see, even if it’s only a finger sized seedling.

I like to occasionally stop and admire the completed work.  Cut cedars are put into the blue tub.  Filled tubs are placed on the white sheet.  Four tubs fill the sheet which is gathered by the corners and slung Santa style over my shoulder for the trip to the brush pile.

My favorite part of the job is watching the cedar-free prairie green up in late spring.  I enjoy the work, but I’m glad it’s just a seasonal activity.


  1. The layout of your property is fantastic, and I'm glad you're keeping it clear. We have issues with White Pine here, they can grow right before your eyes.

  2. Hi Steve! Welcome back to cyberspace. I haven't seen you here for quite some time. We are at sea now so I have to do a whole week of blogging in a few hours when we are in a US port on Sundays. It's fun to watch you manage your land through your blog.

    All the very best,

  3. Hi Renee. White Pine is not much of a problem here, but Virginia Pine can sometimes be as aggressive as the cedar.

    Hi Lois. I’ll continue to be a cyberspace visitor as long as my computer and associated equipment allows.