converting a 15 year old Chinese Privet, Japanese Honeysuckle and Sweet Gum forest into a magical flowery prairie lawn

Well, from what I hear, everybody wants to know how to change from a mega-shrub-scrub patch to a high quality natural grassland-wildflower area. Okay, well not everybody wants to know but there are a few of you out there in left field who do.

First thing to know is that it aint easy-peazy.

The project can be a little easier if you’re changing from herb vegetation to herb vegetation, rather than from forested, woody vegetation to herb vegetation. Trees can be much more difficult to deal with than herbage, so the labor requirements can be more intensive, more laborious. Hauling off trees is tuff stuff.

But that didn’t stop me.

I’m like, up to the challenge. I’m Prairie Dog, after all. Defender of the Prairie.

I planted Long Leaf pines on much of my new twelve-acre property that I bought back in 1997. The intent was to plant scattered pines with a ground cover of fine fuels, or pine prairie. I wanted to create a beautiful landscape. There’s one area, about 80 feet by 80 feet that I never got a chance to plant. I figured I’d get to it later. The pines have grown to be awesome and giant. Seeing them brings back memories of pleasant days when my two boys were still boys, helping Pop plant little pine seedling plugs. Joel was 13 and Cale was ten.

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above: Some of the pines are now twenty and twenty five feet tall and I am now finding an occasional seedling in the “grass” stage, generated from the Momma trees.

So on this 80 by 80 piece of land, I started two years ago, working on killing Chinese Privet, Japanese Honeysuckle, and Gum and salvaging the Pines. I began the process of changing the landscape from overrun scrub to pine prairie.

I got out the big guns on the big Gums. Say that really fast ten times.

My buddy and neighbor Terry Johnson, a great guy who grew up on a farm in Iowa and can engineer anything, helped me re-rig my old tree sprayer. He and I worked to change the power plant on the rig from running via two-cycle lawn mower-type engine to being powered via the PTO on my tractor. I got a new PTO pump and we changed it out and built a new platform out of treated lumber to mount the rig onto. We built it so all of this hooked up to the tractor via a three point hitch. I then had a 150 gallon water tank sparyer, ready to go. I would use it for controlled burns and for spraying herbicide. I was now armed and dangerous.

Last summer (2013), I experimented by spraying Round-up on the Privet, Gum and Wax Myrtle. I was careful not to hit the Pines.

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above: last winter, I burned and seeded the area with a Low-Mow seed mixture dominant in low-growing native grasses; Narrow Leaf Bluestem, Pine Land Dropseed, with a tab bit of Elliot’s Bluestem and Split Beard Bluestem. As soon as I finished burning, I sowed the awesome collection of seed.

My friend, Jim McGee, and I cut the trees and scrub off of one area about fifty by thirty feet and planted a sweet mix of No-Mow native lawn there. Most of the stumps regenerated this summer, growing about a foot or so tall. I sprayed 2-4-d and Remedy (trichlopyr) on these regenerated stumps and on the not-fully killed Privet, Gum and Waxes this past summer. This herbicide mix kills everything but the grasses. I killed a lot of plants that day. It left a bunch of standing scrub carcasses baking in the sun like old bones in the desert.

Yesterday, I got busy cutting a new 35 by 30 foot square out of the dead, standing carcasses so I could plant another section of my new Wonderland No-Mow lawn seed mix (for details on this mix, see our blog home page section titled “About Our Local Eco-Type Seed”). I started about 10:00 in the morning and cut and I whacked and I cut and whacked again and by 1:00, I had finished whacking. There was leaf litter on the ground surface so I raked it up to expose bare soil. I got that done and was ready for seed. Folks, it takes two full years of patience, of killing, to get to a point where you are seeding when you’re dealing with beasts like these.

Whoo-hoo! Its a happy day when its done!

I got the area seeded and then stabilized the seed with wheat hay so that the seed wouldn’t go bye-bye in the next rain (its planted on a nice sloped hillside). This hay cover also makes for a more moist condition for seed germination than bare, exposed seed and soil does. Careful: too much hay, not good.

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This is what the biomass looked like before I got a’cuttin’. click on the photos and enlarge to see ’em better. Look at the pines for scale/reference.

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Got the biomass cut and gone, I left the Yaupons because they are nice.

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I raked all of the leaf cover from the ground to expose soil, hauled it off, and then seeded just by dispersing seed onto the ground.

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All done with seeding, I mulched sufficiently to stabilize seed on the slope.

It should be easy going from here. Presto!! Change-o!!! I pull a rabbit from my prairie dog hat!!!!

Come see the progress of this and other cool experiments, old and new, at the annual May field trip at the Farm next year. There aint nuthin’ like it.

Get busy and build a pine prairie No-Mow lawn, folks!! Time’s a’waistin’.

 

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