Our Little Savanna, WIP

This project will always be work in progress, as many restoration and preservation efforts are, but for what its worth, here’s the current plan with our little prairie/savanna restoration project.  If you have any advice or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to chime in through comments!

So far, we’ve cut, stump-treated (Garlon4), brush-piled and burned about 3 acres of a solid invasive buckthorn / honeysuckle thicket directly north of the house.  A monumental PITA, but good exercise (except when the mosquitoes almost carried me away, and the bees nearly killed me..).  After clearing these areas, they need to be monitored for a year or two in order to be sure the really obnoxious stuff is under control.  This fall, about an acre of it was ready for seeding, along with about 1/2 acre of lawn sod that I killed off a few months ago.

After cutting the invasive stuff out, I could just leave it alone and wait to see if any of the original natives come back from dormant seeds remaining in the soil.  In fact, a few small areas did rebound successfully.  I found aerials photos of our parcel from 1938, 1968, 1976, and 2009, and I can see that it hasn’t been more than 40 years since the brush really got the upper hand.  Yet, the majority of space I cleared rapidly reverted to all manner of non-natives and aggressive natives, so I decided to be a little more proactive.

This fall, we purchased a big batch of seeds from Agrecol, and were also given a generous bunch from Goose Pond Audubon Sanctuary for helping out with their seed collecting activities this fall.  We focused exclusively on seeding local genotypes, or known native ‘indicator species’ for our local area and site characteristics (based on various works published by Curtis, Pruka and Bader), then divided the seeds up based on size of plot, soil type and canopy opening percentage, and seeded the areas that were ready.

The seed batches were mixed with sawdust to help with even distribution, and we spread the seeds on snow during the second week of December.  The idea is that the winter’s freeze/thaw cycle pulls the seeds down into the soil just enough to encourage germination.

Next summer, I’ll keep all of the seeded areas trimmed to 6″ or less (probably 3 or 4 trimmings), since the ‘good’ seedlings I want to encourage will be putting all of their energy into their root system during the first year.  Anything taller than 6″ is probably a weed (or can survive getting trimmed), and keeping it mowed should help prevent it from going to seed, which gives the native sprouts a head start.  The following year, I’ll mow it to the ground in spring, then might end up keeping it mowed below 12″ depending on how it’s looking.  Thereafter, I’ll let it grow, and start ‘editing’ as required until the natives can hold their own.  The next spring, I’ll mow it to the ground again, and in following years, I’ll cut the areas with a rented walk-behind brush hog every 2 or 3 years to keep the trees and brush out.  I am all but certain that I will never be able to do any prescribed burning here, since the site is so inaccessible, and neighbors are close by – but I might rake the thatch occasionally.  I’ll cross that bridge if/when I get there.

That’s the plan anyway…  we’re definitely making lots of mistakes along the way, but we’re also learning a LOT and having lots of fun.

This should all look *really* sharp in a decade or two! 😉

Here are a few of my most frequently visited sources of information and inspiration:

Tom’s Blog (Pleasant Valley Conservancy) – an absolutely invaluable resource:  http://pvcblog.blogspot.com/2009/09/nice-photo-set-from-pleasant-valley.html

Helping collect seed at Goose Pond Sanctuary (Aububon Society) has been a great experience, and I have already learned so much from these guys: http://madisonaudubon.org/audubon/directions/goosepond.htm

Woodland Dunes Nature Center – check out their new prairie!

Digging in the Driftless: http://digginginthedriftless.wordpress.com/

The Prairie Enthusiasts: http://www.theprairieenthusiasts.org/

UW Arboretum: http://uwarboretum.org/

A Prairie Haven: http://www.aprairiehaven.com/

Native Plants of Wisconsin: http://www.amazon.com/Landscaping-Native-Plants-Wisconsin-Steiner/dp/0760329699

Vegetation of Wisconsin: http://amzn.to/emBjbA

Prairie Nursery: http://www.prairienursery.com/store/

Prairie Moon Nursery (I ordered quite a few seeds from here):  http://www.prairiemoon.com/

Agrecol: http://www.agrecol.com/

One Straw (who presents a very compelling argument for turning invasives into energy via hot-water middens – harnessing the heat of composting –  instead of burning brush piles.  If his experiment works this year, I might just build my own next year)   http://onestraw.wordpress.com/


About this entry