At this point in the fall, most things in my garden have closed up shop till next spring. Oh, there are some chrysanthemums blooming, and the Virginia sweetspire and chokeberry tree have put on their fiery fall colors, but there’s not much in the way of growth going on.
Except for the evil invasives. Sunday I went out to take a closer look at my beauty bush, which is currently sporting a heavy crop of bright purple berries, and discovered to my dismay about ten or more tree seedlings springing up all around it. Three of them had already grown quite thick little trunks and were threatening to turn into saplings. I pulled out the littler ones by the roots but those bigger ones – about an inch thick – required stronger measures. Mr. Z and I dug out the soil a little around their base, and then cut off the mini-saplings as low as we could. We then immediately painted the exposed cut surface with Round-Up.
Why go nuclear on these plants? Because we are dealing here with Ailanthus altissima, or “Tree-of-Heaven”. Tree-of-Heaven is one of the most aggressively invasive plants around. The National Park Service has this to say about it:
Tree-of-heaven is a prolific seed producer, grows rapidly, and can overrun native vegetation. Once established, it can quickly take over a site and form an impenetrable thicket. Ailanthus trees also produces toxins that prevent the establishment of other plant species. The root system is aggressive enough to cause damage to sewers and foundations…
…Tree-of-heaven reproduces both sexually (seeds) and asexually (vegetative sprouts)…One study reports that an individual tree can produce as many as 325,000 seeds per year. Established trees also produce numerous suckers from the roots and resprout vigorously from cut stumps and root fragments.
In my experience, even branch fragments left to lie too long in a flower bed will send down roots and sprout vigorous leaf growth. This plant is evil, evil, evil.
And unfortunately for me, my yard is flanked on either side by huge, well-established specimens. On the one side, my neighbor cherishes the tree as a producer of shade and a privacy screen. I can’t imagine a way to convince her it ought to be eradicated. The smaller of the two trees belongs to the neighbor who is rarely at home; they spend most of their time at their house at the Jersey shore. Mr. Z, however, thinks they won’t be too happy about the idea of taking out the Tree-of-Heaven because of the danger it might pose to their garage.
You see, you can’t just cut down a Tree-of-Heaven. That’s like pouring gasoline on a fire. It causes the roots to send up immense numbers of seedlings. You have to kill the tree in a manner that kills it all the way down to the roots. The National Park Service gives detailed directions on how to kill these trees. For the smaller tree in the mostly-absent neighbor’s yard, we’d probably have to kill it using the basal bark application method and then wait for it to die, then have it taken down. But I suppose there would be some danger that the dead tree might fall on the neighbor’s garage before it could be safely taken down.
Even if I could eliminate this smaller tree, there would still be the twice-as-big one in the other neighbor’s yard. In the part of our yard adjacent to this tree, tree seedlings are constantly sprouting up and it is a never-ending battle to keep the flower beds free of the trees. When Mr. Z mows the lawn in this area, he is always mowing little tree seedlings.
Even worse, our yard – and that of our neighbors – backs up against a nine-acre wooded preserve. (It was the scene of a Revolutionary War battle.) These small urban remnants of the once vast Eastern forest need to be protected and nurtured. We need to ensure that they flourish with native plants, but sadly, this wooded plot is overrun with invasives, garlic mustard among them.
I want to turn my yard into a garden of native plants; I want to help restore the woodland edge on my property and improve the health of my little part of the forest. But between the ridiculously large deer herd that subsists on that nine-acre plot, the garlic mustard, and the two giant Tree-of-Heaven trees on either side of me, I feel boxed in and defeated.
Even with all these things stacked against me, I still think I could make some serious headway if I had…more money. My yard is odd, but it has much potential. It’s on a slope, and is split up into several different areas on different levels. There’s sun and shade, woodland edge, an area that would be great for a mini-meadow…it could be a stunning place, and is a perfect site for putting in all kinds of natives. But what I need is guidance of some sort. What I would most like is to have someone work with me to develop a plan for the entire area, that would address all its quirks and develop a real multilayer landscape (groundcovers, perennials, shrubs, small trees – I already have some of the large trees in the forest edge.) A plan that I could work on over several years. I just don’t know where to get started. Haphazardly sticking in a dozen or so native perennials as I did this spring is not the approach I want to continue with.
If money were no object, I’d commission a real landscape plan from someone who knew something about working with natives, and I’d build a deer fence around at least some parts of my property, to discourage them, even though it’s not possible to fence in the entire yard.
Yellow Springs Farm Native Plant Nursery, in my area, does do landscape design. I’m going to call them and see how expensive it is. Maybe I can afford it for at least part of the yard, the woodland edge area.
When I think about habitat destruction, global warming, the growing number of species threatened with extinction, I often feel overwhelmed with despair, and powerless to make any real difference. My own little plot of land is all that I feel I have any real control over, and it is my obligation, I think, to make it over into as much of a native refuge as I can. And yet even that task seems daunting. Maybe the folks at Yellow Springs can help me out.
Have any of you attempted anything like this with your yards? How is it going? What’s worked well for you? Share your success stories, if you have some, or just commiserate if you don’t.