Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cedar Maintenance in the Middle Field

The marking flags are once again flying in the field as I resume my cedar maintenance activities. 

I’m working in what I think of as the Middle Field.  The field seen through the trees is the Far Field, which runs up against the County road.  In the other direction is the Near Field, which sits beside the house.  Between those two fields is the Middle Field.  It makes sense as long as you don’t consider all of the fields that are in other directions from the house.

The Middle Field is a narrow, wedge shaped field that points to the north.  Even though it is only two acres in size, the Middle Field contains a variety of diverse habitats.  Along the east side is a shallow valley containing a small, intermittent stream.  A narrow strip of deep soil along the stream bank encourages tree growth.

Just a short climb up the slope brings you onto shallower soil where the prairie vegetation dominates.

The areas of open grassland reach as narrow fingers among the tall cedars.  In these areas I don’t need the help of flags to guide my search for little cedars

At the top of the slope is a small thicket of Virginia Pine.  It’s not hard to pick out the tree that was most likely the original colonist.  The rest of the stand probably originated from that single individual.

Just through the pines, the field opens up onto a level hill top.  As the old fence row is cleared, this part of the field will become more associated with the Near Field seen through the trees to the left.

A thriving stand of Dwarf Sumac is found on the hill top.  We’ve had nearly no snow so far this winter, so the Sumac fruits have not been touched by the birds.  The sumac fruits seem to be eaten only out of necessity.  It’s only during the harshest of winters that this fruit seems to disappear.

The pointy end of the Middle Field has already been mowed.  If weather permits, I’ll mow the rest of the field following the cedar maintenance activities.

I’ll be removing Eastern Red Cedar as well as Virginia Pine seedlings from this field. 

Virginia Pines produce an abundance of seeds.  Those seeds seem ready to germinate as soon as they hit the ground, so pine seedlings are especially abundant near the mature pines.  Fortunately, if cut off at ground level, the pines will not regrow.

Because the field was mowed just three years ago, the young cedars are not very tall.  I generally like to conduct cedar maintenance activities in a field prior to mowing.  Sometimes circumstances conspire to limit the amount of time available for field work and I must decide which would be the most beneficial activity to pursue.  Three years ago, I decided to limit the threat of cedar competition on the prairie plants by going ahead and mowing the field.

As a result of that earlier decision, I am now cutting cedars that have regrown from a cut stem.  These individuals form a dense top growth, but still have only a single stem needing cut.

The mower actually caused the stem of this cedar to split three years ago.  Live branches, safe beneath the cut, responded to the loss of the tree top by generating some rapid growth.  The loss of a dominant top stem allowed the side shoots to grow uncontrolled in an attempt to replace that dominant leader.  As long as there is the least bit of green growth left, a cut cedar will successfully regrow.

My activities don’t go unnoticed by the local residents hiding behind an old brush pile.  They usually don’t seem too interested in my cedar maintenance activities.  It’s the mowing that they really get excited about.  They can’t resist checking out the interesting odors generated by freshly cut vegetation.

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