THE OLD WOODLOT HABITAT (originally Ash Woodlot) at the FWG was planted with 60 ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) trees in 1967 interspersed with red oaks (Quercus rubra) of about the same age and an assortment of coniferous trees (white spruce, Norway spruce, Scots pine, and white pine) which were planted, probably also in 1967 or shortly afterwards. Unfortunately, the invasive Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis) attacked most of the trees so that they had to be cut and removed. Some of the stomps have been left in the area. The remaining trees have thrived and new plantings are added regularly. These are often marked by ribbons.
Unlike a natural forest, our woodlot had only one layer – the canopy (photo right). When the FWG project began, the first priority was to stop mowing the grass under the trees. Leaves were collected each fall and spread through the woodlot to try to build up a thick layer of organic nutrients (see Tomlinson plan below).
Tomlinson Plan for the FWG, 1990
For several years, the ground under this small wooded area has been raked clear of fallen leaves and twigs to encourage the growth of grass. This maintenance system needs to be reversed if the wood is to be returned to a natural state. Normally it would take many years to recreate a woodland soil, but this process could be sped up by spreading a thick layer of fallen leaves over the site annually until a deep leaf soil is formed.
- Treat ground with degradable herbicide to kill grass.
- Spread nitrogenous fertilizer over the ground at manufacturer’s recommended rates.
- Spread 12-18 inch layer of wet leaves under trees.
- Treat surface of the leaves with nitrogenous fertilizer to speed up decomposition.
- Repeat annually until several inches of leaf soil has formed.
- Allow any seedling trees that germinate to develop to create an understory.
- Seeds from such species as sugar maple could be sown onto the top of the leaves to speed up this process.
Only when a good depth of leaf soil is developed should the following species be planted: all the plants listed for the gully which do not require moist conditions plus white trillium, Dutchman’s breeches and squirrel corn, large flowered bellwort, virginial cowslip, and wood nettle.
By 1994, enough mulch had accumulated in a few areas to begin experimenting with woodland species like trilliums, trout lilies, violets, foamflowers (photo), ferns, mosses, etc. Thanks to donations from club members’ gardens and a couple of rescue operations, we were able to plant a variety of woodland wildflowers and ferns typical of our region.
Seedlngs, including a shrub layer, began to appear as envisioned by Tomlinson. However, it consisted mainly of non-native species, such as Norway maples, buckthorn, and honeysuckle. A number of red elderberry shrubs also appeared, possibly from plantings for the botanical garden between 1967 and 1984.
In 1995, we were delighted to find that almost all the introduced wildflowers had survived the winter and had started to spread. We added more, along with more leaves and as much rotted wood as we could find (or transport). By fall, mushrooms and fungi began to appear. This was a good sign; it showed that we were successful in raising the proportion of decaying organic material in the soil.
In 1996, we concentrated on the shrub layer, both in and around the woodlot. We planted native tree seedlings on the north and west sides of the main lot. Under the ash trees, we replaced some of the weed species with native ones like hobblebush, striped maple, hemlock, and beech. When we discovered a native growing naturally (red-berried elder, maple, oak, black cherry, dogwood), we helped it along by weeding back any non-natives in the immediate area.
The ice storm of January 1998 caused considerable damage to the ash trees in our woodlot. We managed to put the many downed branches to good use, however, by making brush piles in and around the woodlot. The birds seemed to love these jumbles, and they were acting as edge cover until natural growth occurred. In the spring, we planted a number of nannyberry and high-bush cranberry shrubs on the south and west sides of the woodlot and scouts planted ash seedlings in the semi-circle. In the fall, we were lucky to receive a number of “hard maples” through Project ReGeneration (organized by the Evergreen Foundation and sponsored by Ontario Hydro).
In 1999, we continued to weed out invasive species like garlic mustard, motherwort, and dog-strangling vine (DSV). We replaced buckthorn shrubs with several dozen young sugar maple and beech trees. With help from our excellent crew of volunteers and an enthusiastic group of baccalaureate students from Colonel By Secondary School, we were also able to establish several stands of trembling aspens at the edges of the woodlot.
In 2001 and 2002, we made a concerted effort to remove the buckthorn that was beginning to dominate the understory. Volunteers Dale Crook, Malcolm Leith, and Tony Denton made great progress by using a weed wrench to pull out both Common Buckthorn and Glossy Buckthorn trees by their roots. At the same time, other volunteers weeded out the DSV that is a ubiquitous problem on our site.
Over the next few years, we continued to remove invasives – garlic mustard, DSV, buckthorn – as well as several Manitoba maples and many honeysuckles. Although pulling DSV seemed to be of some help, many plants grow back every year, from remaining roots or seeds. Digging is more effective, but difficult to do without disturbing everything else. Our general strategy is to pull out DSV growing near “good” plants every year. In small areas, we’ve been digging it out or covering an area with a tarpaulin until the DSV is dead, then planting native species.
In 2005, we planted a variety of small trees donated by Albert Dugal. These included blue beech, sugar maple, basswood, pagoda dogwoods, white ash, white spruce, butternut, bitternut hickory, and American elm. Other plants included sedges, ferns, bloodroot, mayapple, and white snakeroot.
In 2006, we removed a lot of buckthorn trees and seedlings, all garlic mustard plants that bloomed, some motherwort, and some DSV. We continued to plant woodland wildflowers and other plants, including sugar maples.
The FWG did not escape the arrival of the Emerald Ash Borer to Ottawa. The ash trees that formed the core of this habitat slowly succumbed to this deadly pest, and, for safety reasons, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada decided to remove them in spring 2015.
The Tuesday afternoon volunteer group met the challenge of recreating the woodlot and looked upon it as an opportunity to introduce a more natural mix of native trees and shrubs, such as Sugar Maples, Balsam Firs, Eastern White Cedars, as well as birch, hackberry, beech, hickory, and other species known to be used by wildlife.
The disturbance of this habitat caused many unexpected changes, which will no doubt continue until the new trees grow to the point where it begins to look like a woods again. In 2015, many farm plants arrived likely as hitchhikers on the equipment used to remove the 60 ash trees. In 2016, Stinging Nettle was a dominant species – favouring Red Admiral and Eastern Comma butterflies. In 2017, the farm crops had disappeared, and nettles were overpowered by raspberries, which grew so prolifically they had to be cut back from the centre trail several times over the summer.
Although Dog-strangling Vine continues to be a problem, the “logging operation” had a good effect and the centre of the woods has very little DSV. This year, the Tuesday group tackled some of the edges and we are slowing replacing this invasive species with locally native wildflowers and other plants.