Going Native With Your Landscape

Sometimes it seems like you have to travel to the farthest reaches of the globe to find truly undisturbed patches of nature. Closer to home you can visit a state park or even a backyard woodlot for a glimpse of the natural world. However, the lands which are now the parks and woodlots we enjoy have undergone many transformations over the centuries from forests to clear-cut to farmland to abandoned land and sometimes back to forest.

This cycle of change and renewal has taken place with many intervening landscapes before the return of the mature woods or the laying of lawn.

If you don't have a piece of wildland on your property there are actions you can take that can at least recreate a fragment of the once dynamic system that resided here. Habitat restoration is this art of establishing native vegetation and wildlife habitat on disturbed, denuded or otherwise altered sites. This process involves all measures necessary to restore, enhance or create healthy ecosystems. It can involve elaborate landscaping schemes or be as simple as leaving a portion of a lawn unmowed. The key is to focus on creating plant communities high in biological diversity that are representative of natural ecosystems and contain native plants.

For example, in some areas, many of the natural forest shrubs and low forest plants have been devoured by deer. As a result, the woodlot is often missing many of the lower plants that make it more true to Mother Nature's original intention. Habitat restoration in this case might include planting High Bush Cranberry and Red Osier Dogwood along the forest edge or Lady's Slippers and Trilliums in the forest interior. However, be prepared to install deer fencing to protect the succulent forest plants in your native landscape.

Your woodlot may also be overrun by invasive exotic species. Norway Maple and Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus), for instance, have become aggressive colonizers of our wild lands. They often establish themselves in large colonies to the exclusion of native species. In this event, Habitat restoration may involve more aggressive use of a saw rather than a shovel!

If you want to restore an open lawn area, you have a few options. One option is to plant native trees, shrubs and plants and guide the area to maturity. It is important to note that this plan requires a high level of maintenance including weeding to keep invasive plants out and pruning to give the trees the look of forest trees rather than ornamentals.

A simpler option is to plant a tight cover of evergreen trees, such as White Pine, and let them create the environment in which hardwood trees and plants can become established naturally. You may even interplant select hardwood trees to be nursed upwards by the Pine to develop a form that is more indicative of a forest tree rather than an open grown tree. This method requires patience as it may take decades and the willingness to thin out the Pines to favor a more natural mix of plants over time.

The quickest, easiest native landscape option, involves relaxing the mowing cycle on select portions of your lawn to create a natural meadow. You may be pleasantly surprised by the plants that will gain prominence. For added effect, introduce meadow plants such as Beauty Bush, Butterfly Bush, Purple Cone Flower, Buddleia, Black Eyed Susan or Milkweed. This area will come alive with summer colors and butterflies! To be maintained as a meadow, you will need to mow at least once per year to ensure woody plants do not become established:

If you decide to embark on a habitat restoration project, you will need to actively manage areas to ensure their success. However, the end result is the reward of a more natural environment rich with birds, colorful insects and small animals. You may also enjoy a feeling of accomplishment by creating new learning and exploration experiences for children while rehabilitating our environment.

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