The Woodland Restoration Projects
The “Habitat” and the “Corner”
at Fresh Pond Reservation
The Woodland Restoration Projects have flourished this year: once-tiny oaks and pines now tower over our heads; many shrubs have expanded into multi-stemmed thickets; the flowers of native perennials now light up the woods in the fall with broad swaths of white, yellow and purple; and creeping groundcovers are gradually filling in previously empty spaces. As we fill up the land, we leave less room for the weeds that dominated the areas for many years. We will always have to deal with weeds, but we are reducing their numbers to an amount that we can manage. Our bigger challenge remains preventing hungry rabbits and other animals from damaging the plants we are cultivating.
In October of 2016, not long after Reservation System Manager Vince Falcione installed a new 4-foot tall plastic netting fence for us, we noticed that many holes had been gnawed along the bottom – clearly the work of rabbits. This spring, volunteers Richard and Gerard began attaching 2-foot tall wire poultry netting along most of the 300-foot length of the fence; to patch the holes and prevent further damage. We understand that if we have deep snow during the winter, or if snow is plowed up against the fence, it will allow the animals to gnaw through the fence above the netting. But we believe that during the growing season the netting will prevent rabbits from coming and going among the vulnerable border plants.
Also this year, for the first time, we noticed signs of deer browsing on our small red maples and black gums. Many of our tree and shrub species are included on lists of plants that deer like to eat, including oak, white pine, arborvitae, birch, and witch hazel. This is a serious concern for us because we tend to purchase small trees and shrubs that are easy to plant – just the size that deer prefer.
For the past two years, we have had success using the nontoxic animal repellent “Bobbex R” to protect many of our plants from being eaten by rabbits. We recently learned that experts recommend repellant use be varied because animals become acclimated and will learn to ignore a product. In response to this information, we increased the variety of animal repellents we use to include “Animals-B-Gon” and “Plantskydd”. These additional products are said to be effective against deer and squirrels as well as rabbits. As with all of our efforts to protect the plants, we must wait to see results, then try to determine how effective the strategy has been. Caging with poultry netting is still our most reliable protection against rabbits, but cages to protect against deer would have to be more than 5 feet tall, creating what would amount to prison for growing shrubs and small trees.
We started the year in April by repairing the fence, hauling woodchips to cover walking paths, cutting down the dead stems of last year’s asters and goldenrods, and removing the winter cages and white stem protectors from trees and shrubs. Our protection efforts over the winter paid off: there was limited damage, mostly to grasses and a few unprotected plants and stems that had spread beyond the cages.
Later in the month, we began planting shrubs we purchased from the Mass. Conservation District. We caged all of them, and mulched them with well-decomposed leaves that remained in the pile of leaves left for us the previous fall by the water department. We also divided and transplanted a variety of perennials such as violets, pussytoes, black cohosh, wild ginger, and ferns.
In May we planted three flats with 50 plugs each of native perennials that Candace purchased for us. We also planted trees and shrubs purchased by the water department, and perennials I grew from seed. In total, we added more than 300 plants of about 40 native species. (See list below.) Fourteen species were new to the project, included because historically they are likely to have been found in the area.
In an area behind our white pine grove, we started an experimental plot to learn if we could establish an understory of perennials and shrubs that rabbits do not like to eat. Candidate plants include wild ginger, common cinquefoil, black cohosh, white snakeroot, bloodroot, and false Solomon’s seal. The soil in this section is especially poor, due to years of dominance by garlic mustard and common buckthorn, and has very little leaf litter. We have added piles of leaves to build the humus layer and will continue to add more in future years.
During the spring and early summer, I used my battery-operated hedge trimmer and string trimmer for clearing weeds from our paths, opening access to plants that we wanted to monitor, and cutting back goldenrods and asters to encourage branching and reduced height. Later, I cut down the year’s widespread crop of enchanter’s nightshade (an annoying weed) just before they went to seed. This appears to be an effective control strategy, because these annual plants do not regrow after being cut during the flowering stage.
As the summer went on, most of us specialized in ongoing tasks: Suzanna battled raspberry vines; Betsy extirpated garlic mustard; Rebecca watered new plantings; Pamela pruned trees and shrubs; Candace divided and planted perennials; Richard repaired fences and removed buckthorns; and I hauled in flat after flat of seedlings from my back yard patio. We all helped plant the new plants, spread woodchips, repair cages, and pull weeds.
This year, despite an unusually dry autumn, we did not irrigate with the sprinkler system – for the first year since the system was set up for us in 2013. This is a step toward our goal of establishing a natural area that does not require additional water in order to survive. When we added new plants this year, we mulched them generously with decomposed leaves and watered them regularly with water from the rain barrels kept full for us by Brian Mulrenan from the water department.
In October Richard started a herculean project to remove common buckthorns from the woods adjacent to the red maple area. Using a Weed Wrench, a hatchet and loppers, he uprooted and cut up enough buckthorns to create an enormous pile. The woods where he has worked look startlingly different now, with plenty of open space where there had been a tangle of small trees. We transplanted several “volunteer” trees into the area, spread a thick layer of leaves, and also scattered the seeds of white snakeroot, white wood asters, and blue-stemmed goldenrods which we hope will produce a native wildflower understory.
While working on this project, we have learned to appreciate the value of dead leaves for improving soil, retaining moisture and protecting the roots of plants from temperature extremes. Thus, in late November, after the water department left us a new pile of leaves, we immediately set out with wagons, wheelbarrows and bags to spread them around plants and over any areas with exposed soil. Our first snow of the winter, on December 12, covered the woods and meadows of Fresh Pond Reservation with a 5-inch deep white blanket, and brought to a close the volunteer season in the Woodland Restoration Projects. So ended year 5 of our stewardship in the Habitat, and year 11 in the Corner.
2017 Volunteers: Suzanna Black, Richard Bosel, Pamela Hart, Alice Hooker, Betsy Meyer, Chris Powers, Rebecca Ramsay, Cathy.Sakas, Gerard Teichman, Elizabeth Wylde, Candace Young, “Ilana,” “Kim,” “Lu Chen,” and “May.”
Volunteer Hours in 2017: more than 700
Thanks to Water Department staff: Vince Falcione, Dave Kaplan, Brian Mulrenan, Tim Puopolo, Jean Rogers, and Martine Wong. Also, the arborists who pruned our trees and the landscapers who dug holes for us.
December 30, 2017
Plants added to the Habitat and Corner, and Other Donations in 2017
Plants Purchased by the Cambridge Water Department
Plants Donated by Candace Young
Plants Donated by Betsy Meyer
Plants and Seeds Donated by Russ Cohen
Plants Donated by Grow Native Mass
Seeds Donated by Suzanna Black
Equipment Donated by Pamela Hart
Plants Donated by Elizabeth Wylde
Plants Grown from Seeds by Elizabeth