The Woodland Habitat Restoration Project
Fresh Pond Reservation
The Woodland Habitat Restoration Project ("The Habitat") was launched in January 2012 when Watershed Manager Chip Norton approved a request by the stewards of the Woodland Restoration Project ("The Corner") to weed, plant, and manage a 300 foot long strip of land between the Corner and the service road at the east end of Lusitania Meadow. Volunteers had previously cleared the area of a dense understory of common and glossy buckthorns. In the spring of 2012, Reservation Site Supervisor Vince Falcione helped us greatly by clearing the area of large mulberry trees, buckthorns, and dying ash trees, back to about 50 to100 feet from the road. The stewards then began planting small trees and shrubs purchased by the Friends of Fresh Pond Reservation, and perennials grown from seeds or donated by ourselves. After an onslaught of ravenous rabbits consumed many of our saplings, we began installing chickwire cages to protect them. We spent the summer removing weeds, and we finished the year by spreading an insulating layer of oak leaves that we gathered from locations in Cambridge and Groton.
During the winter of 2012-2013 we continued to read and learn about locally native plants for the Habitat. We ordered replacements for some of the oaks and hickories that were nipped off by the rabbits, and decided to add several other species: black gum, river birch, American filbert, white pine, and winterberry holly. We observed that our very small plants did not create a rewarding visual perspective, either for us or for passersby looking into the Habitat, and concluded that we needed to add some larger plants.
Vince suggested that we give him a list of plants for him to order from New England Wetland Plants. When we showed the list to Chip, he recommended that we increase the order. We willingly complied and, in addition to more plants for the interior, also asked for several larger trees for the border, to provide more shade in the Habitat as ash trees die back. In preparation for the expected April arrival of the plants, we made a large number of chickwire cages and placed flags where we wanted to locate the plants.
In mid-April we received two shipments - from Musser's Forests and the Mass. Conservation District - totaling 58 bare-root woody plants purchased by the Friends group. As we planted them we added mycorrhizal fungi inoculant, and humus with manure where the soil looked poor. We also planted two American chestnut cultivars given to us by Vince, and huckleberries, Canada mayflowers, Amelanchiers, and sweetferns dug from Suzanna Black's property in Groton, Mass.
The Water Department's big order of 111 plants from New England Wetland Plants arrived on May 6. With the welcome help of two employees of Schumacher Landscaping, who dug holes for us, we were able to place most of the plants in one day. We located about half of the shrubs outside the mesh fence to help make an attractive border. Later in the month, Vince set up an irrigation system for us, including 5 tall sprinkler stands, and 900 feet of garden hose which was hooked up to a nearby fire hydrant. This irrigation system was critical to the survival of our newly planted saplings during several unusually dry periods early and later in the summer.
Each week during April and May we brought in flats of plants that we grew on my backyard patio from cuttings or seeds. Species included clethra, sweet autumn vine, meadowsweet, foamflower, pasture rose, pagoda dogwood, Christmas fern, several sedges, and Jack-in-the pulpit - about 130 plants in all. Later we added 15 pots of purple love grass, about 40 wild lupines, and four mature native shrubs from my garden.
After the plantings in May, most of the rest of the growing season was dedicated to weed removal. Regular irrigation, which helped our newly planted saplings to flourish, also stimulated a lush understory of native and non-native weeds, as well as rapid tree regrowth from cut stumps. Each week seemed to feature an explosion of yet another unwelcome species. We started removing garlic mustard in April, then tackled Japanese knotweed, non-native smartweeds, black and bittersweet nightshades, common and glossy buckthorns, oriental bittersweet and evergreen blackberries. We also removed weedy natives such as poison ivy for our own safety, as well as jewelweed, yellow wood sorrel, pokeweed, purple-leaved willow herb and clearweed where they overgrew our cultivated plants; and we cut or pulled out enchanter's nightshade and avens when their abundant sticky seeds began hitching rides all over our clothes. Teams ranging from two to six people continued weeding on Tuesdays until December.
As the summer progressed, we noticed that a low area near the west end had sprouted a large number of sallow sedges and white vervain, natives that are appropriate for wet soil. We also observed that an area on the north side of the Habitat was filled with other wetland plants including rushes and boneset. We had not introduced any of these plants: they came there on their own. By mid-September white wood asters and blue-stemmed goldenrods, also volunteers, were in flower, creating a beautiful display.
In October we placed an order with Prairie Moon Nurseries for seeds of 11 locally native perennials that we currently do not have in the Habitat. I planted the seeds in flats which will winter over on my patio and sprout in the spring. We also collected and scattered seeds from our local asters, goldenrods, milkweeds, false Solomon's seal, boneset, woolgrass, Joe-Pye weed, and blue vervain. As leaves began falling, we collected and hauled in bags of oak leaves which we spread in the Habitat to provide an insulating layer that will keep the soil from freezing deeply. If we have a lot of snow this winter, we will have to further protect our woody plants from rabbits that can sit on top of the snow and reach over the top of the cages.
Thinking back to conditions in the spring, I am very impressed with the progress we have made this year. Most pleasing to me are the native perennials that appear to have planted themselves and created lush little ecosystems. These and woody species that have become established will self-sow and continue to spread. Other native species will be moving in, both on their own and with our help. Most of the ones we have planted appear to be doing well. Our small woody plants are alive and growing in their wire cages. The cages will stay in place until the bark is thick enough, and the plants tall enough, to be unappealing to hungry rabbits.
On December 10 we cleaned out the trailer and took one more walk around the Habitat. With its blanket of leaves, the area looks snug and ready for winter. We are already looking forward to next spring, and a whole new cycle of planting, weeding, propagating, learning about plants, enjoying working together, and (patiently) witnessing the regeneration of this special piece of land.
of the Woodland Habitat Restoration Project:
Thanks to Vince Falcione, Chip Norton, Jean Rogers, Brian Mulrenan, Mike Prague, Brett Mason, Lance Drane, and the guys from Schumacher Landscaping who helped us this year in numerous ways.
2013 Plant Purchases
2013 Plant Donations