The Woodland Restoration Projects
Fresh Pond Reservation
The winter of 2014-15 was a dramatic reminder for the volunteers in the Woodland Restoration Project and the Woodland Habitat Restoration Project of how variable New England weather is, and how difficult land management can be. We finished up the 2014 growing season in the “Corner” and “Habitat” feeling delighted with how tall our woody plants had grown, pleased with our success at adding many new native species, and satisfied with our efforts at weed control. With new 2-foot tall poultry netting cages protecting all of our trees and shrubs from hungry rabbits, we put away our tools and began making plans for 2015. When the snow started in January and didn’t stop, we became concerned that it would become so deep that rabbits would be able to hop on the surface and reach the exposed tips of our taller plants. Thus on January 28 Susan Coolidge and I spent an exhausting afternoon stomping down snow to make protective wells around every caged plant. To our disappointment, our efforts were soon erased as additional snow piled on – to a depth of about 3 feet. In February Suzanna Black and I strapped on snowshoes and ventured into the Habitat, where we used snow shovels to dig new wells around our white pines. At that time we realized that the rabbits were already consuming twigs protruding above the snow.
Damage from browsing rabbits during the winter was widespread around the Reservation. The bark and twigs of many established shrubs, including clethras, spiraeas, azaleas, blueberries pussy willows and even roses were gnawed up to three feet above the ground, where the top of the snow had been. Most of the tallest twigs of the caged plants in the Habitat were “pruned” back to the top of the cages, and many of the larger stems were fully or partially girdled. However, the cages had worked to protect the bottom two feet of growth, and almost all of the plants were alive in the spring, and ready to sprout.
While waiting for the snow to melt, we learned that there are several effective rabbit repellants on the market. We purchased Bobbex-R, a garlic-based liquid recommended by several experienced gardeners. As the snow retreated, we began spraying vegetation as it became exposed. Results were encouraging and, through spring, we continued to use this product on our vulnerable plants.
The first Tuesday in April found seven volunteers once again hard at work in the Habitat and Corner, repairing fences, propping up cages, and pruning damaged stems. By mid-month we finished repairs, began removing dead stalks of last year’s asters and goldenrods, and started eradicating early growing garlic mustard and avens. By then, bloodroots, marsh marigolds and violets were beginning to flower, and other perennial wildflowers were sprouting. I sprayed rabbit repellant on all violets, sedges, rushes, ferns and asters.
In May, with the help of workers from Schumacher, we planted an order the Water Department had made for us from Bigelow Nurseries, of 4 red maples, 2 red oaks, 12 mountain laurels and 20 evergreen wood ferns. These large, healthy plants have effectively filled in some areas that had previously looked empty.
We knew from our previous two years of experience in the Habitat to expect an abundance of annual weeds. The predicted invasion began in early June, with legions of enchanter’s nightshade sprouting everywhere. I used a battery operated string trimmer to cut them back so that the violets under them could grow and so that later we could work in these areas where otherwise the sticky weed seeds would cling to our clothing. Additional waves of weeds included jewelweed, clearweed, wood sorrel, willow herb, pokeweed, and several species of smartweeds, nightshades, and nettles. Many of these plants are native species that thrive in disturbed areas. Our goal has been to control, rather than eliminate them. Additional weeds included numerous seedlings of ash, black cherry, ash-leaved maple, mulberry, and both kinds of buckthorn, as well as vines of poison ivy and wild grape. All of these had to be pulled by hand, as cutting them was ineffective. The Corner had far fewer weeds than the Habitat because, after eight years of maintenance, the native species we have planted there have filled in most of the space, leaving little room for unwanted seedlings.
June 27 was another big planting day. We received an order of four flats of 50 plugs each of running foamflower, tall meadow rue, Pennsylvania sedge and wild geranium from New England Wild Flower Society; and 24 large marginal wood ferns, a gift from Vince Falcione. A week later we began planting some of the perennials that several volunteers raised at their homes – including silverrod, butterfly weed, mountain mints, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Pennsylvania sedge and woolgrass. Between the end of June and the end of October we took to Fresh Pond a total of about 400 native perennials of 20 different species that we grew from seeds or cuttings. Eight of the species were new to the Habitat and Corner.
We spent the remainder of the summer weeding the Habitat section by section, pruning, transplanting, and worrying about the scarcity of rain in July, August, and September. We were grateful again this year for the irrigation system that was set up for us in 2013. As leaves began to fall, we delighted once again to see how tall our woody plants had grown and – remembering the snows of last winter – we made additional poultry netting cages to place on top of the current cages during the winter, so that the plants will be safe from rabbits, even if we get 3 feet of snow. As a backup, I sprayed Bobbex-R on all exposed branches of our trees such as white pines, on our Christmas ferns, and on any other uncaged evergreen vegetation that rabbits damaged last year.
Although we volunteers often work together, each of us seems to find his or her favorite task, such as pruning, planting, moving rocks, or weeding. Of special note are the efforts of Betsy Meyer, who single handedly, sought out and extirpated countless garlic mustard and Japanese knotweed plants throughout the growing season. She has considerably reduced the population of these noxious weeds in the Habitat and the surrounding woods, and we are grateful for her diligence.
Our final undertaking for the year was a weed-suppression project in the Habitat. We laid down flattened corrugated cardboard boxes and covered them with a thick layer of leaves from an enormous pile that the landscapers had collected from around the Reservation and left for us. We also collected oak leaves and pine needles, and scattered them under our acid-loving mountain laurels and blueberries.
Temperatures remained warm enough that we were able to work every Tuesday until December 22. The volunteer trailer was then removed from the parking lot and taken to its winter storage location. We put away our gardening clothes, knowing that every passing day would bring us closer to spring, the joy of witnessing the world once again bursting into leaf and flower, and the immense satisfaction of spending Tuesday mornings working in the Woodland Restoration Projects.
January XX, 2016
2015 Stewards of the Woodland Habitat Restoration Project:
Suzanna Black, Richard Bosel, Elisabeth Cianciola, Susan Coolidge, Pamela Hart, Sue Kim, Betsy Meyer, Rebecca Ramsay, Sarah Tuttle, Elizabeth Wylde, Candace Young.
Thanks to Vince Falcione, Jean Rogers, Brian Mulrenan, Kirsten Lindquist, Julie Coffey and Anna and the guys from Schumacher Landscaping who helped us this year in numerous ways.
Volunteer hours worked in 2015:
January – 6
February – 4
March – 13.5
April – 79
May – 63
June – 103
July – 93
August – 72.5
September – 94.5
October – 62
November – 74.5
December – 74
Total hours - 739