More on re-establishing a tree canopy

I liked this article by Eric King so much, I’m just going to reprint it. If you’re reading this, Eric, sorry! Let me know if you want me to take it down.

One of the most common requests — a low maintenance landscape — is virtually impossible to create. The goal should be to create a landscape that requires less maintenance than before, becoming even easier to tend the older it gets.

People often think that removing the grass from their yard is the easiest way to reduce maintenance. Because grass requires regular maintenance, it usually doesn’t get out of control as quickly as other plants might. But everything requires some care.

So what happens if you remove lawn and plant ground covers?

You won’t be tied to frequent mowing like before, but you’ll still need regular weeding and mulching. You’ll also need to keep an eye on the ground covers to ensure they don’t grow too large and choke out the other plants.

If you want to play badminton or let the overflow from your party spill onto your grass, that’s a great use for a lawn. But having a lawn everywhere can be counterproductive.

The best way to reduce the size of your lawn is to create areas where grass doesn’t want to grow. Often-times that involves planting trees that will create shade and provide natural leaf mulch. I call that letting your yard go back to nature. There are some steps to follow to do that.

You need to understand how nature works. Trees in a forest create a natural leaf canopy that blocks out sunlight, reducing weed growth below. As the leaves drop, they provide weed-suppressing mulch and improve soil health.

How can you reforest parts of your yard? The process can seem over-whelming. Because you can’t bring in multiple trees that are 40 feet tall, start out small. Use bare root trees in the smallest containers you can get.

Plant them five to 10 feet apart in individual mulch areas around an area of your yard. Then mow around them for a couple of years.

Walk through a healthy forest and look at the variety of plants. Notice the diversity and close proximity of the trees to each other. That should be your model.

Fill your yard with native trees in varying sizes, shapes and types. As they get bigger, they’ll eventually reach a point where you won’t have anything to mow because grass won’t grow due to lack of sunlight. Then you can bring in shade-loving plants. Eventually you’ll have woods in part of your yard that’s relatively self-sustaining.

If you continue to mow that area every week and don’t plant trees, it will never become a forest. We’re stopping natural, ecological succession in its tracks. We’re not allowing nature to progress. If you want a lower maintenance yard, take your cue from nature.

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Existing tree ages

Not sure why I didn’t post the whole list when I posted this┬álast year, but anyways, here are the ages of the bigger trees that were already in the yard before I started planting things. They’re all native even!

Tree DBH Birth year Current age
Water Oak 20 1931 81
Black Cherry 12.74 1947 65
Southern Red Oak 12.4 1961 51
Green Ash 10.2 1970 42
Elm 2.86 1999 13
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Results for 2011

Well, today was tree measuring day and we had a clear winner for 2011. The American Hornbeam grew from 111 to 143 inches! Nobody else even got close that. Sasafras grew from 18 to 27; Georgia Oak from 49 to 61 inches; Beech from 43 to 61; Painted buckeye from 39 to 45. Everything else grew just a few inches. One dogwood added 5 but the rest were less. We had such a great spring then a brutal (hot and dry) summer then a spectacular fall so I wasn’t sure what to expect. That hornbeam is getting pretty darn impressive!

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One of the last holdouts

After the storm this week, the American Hornbeam is one of the last trees still holding onto its leaves

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It’s Fall, Pt. 2

The little tulip poplar got the message

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It’s fall, Pt. 1

Sassafras knows it’s fall

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First bottlebrush bloom?

I think my bottlebrush buckeye is going to bloom for the first time! I think I picked too shady of a spot but if it grows another two feet it should get plenty of sun.

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