A large part of the long term vision at EEC Forest Stewardship, involves regenerative growth. For our old growth forest to reach it’s potential, we have to reinstate a lot of biomass to fulfill the nutrient needs of the ever growing trees. This biomass includes a lot of under-story, and of course, the establishment of new trees. Some of the root stalk and native plants on the land were bought- through local conservation district plant sales, nurseries, and even wild specimens from the edge of logging roads. Often, when new plants are acquired, they go right into the soil upon the land where they are intended to grow long term, but sometimes, plants arrive in too vulnerable a state to be haphazardly thrown into an active landscape. By active, I mean deer browsed and rabbit feasted areas of regeneration. The plant predators of western Washington are fierce.
black-tail deer, notorious plant predator
The regeneration of a forest takes many human generations to create, and new plants and trees should be added throughout stewardship. Keeping young plants protected over a manageable space, a few acres, is relatively doable with some sturdy fencing, but very young trees are a pain to protect individually, especially if they can be contained within a small plot when small, and later replanted in a larger, less protected space as they mature and grow larger. Once a tree is over five feet tall, it can usually fend off deer. Elk would be another matter, but for now, at least in this lifetime, elk are not expected to repopulate this immediate vicinity, but they once did call this hillside home.
In some areas of the land, tree islands house and hide small young trees. This method of planting a younger tree near a larger, especially bushy plant that the deer prefer, can be enough protection. However, this method does not work very well in the further reaches of the land where people do not usually go. In those areas, trees must be fenced. Ground covers and smaller shrubs usually do establish more easily on the landscape, so long as they are placed within an established forest cover. Most under-story plants will not establish well in exposed soil, preferring the shade of canopy to thrive and grow.
Even young trees, like the coveted chestnut, need shade and protection when young. I keep my seedlings in the veggie garden, along with some fruit tree root stock, oaks, and mulberries. I’ve learned not to plant faster growing plants like river birch or twin berry in the garden (even after I convinced myself it was just for one year). I’m still struggling with a few tenacious tenants like Cascadian Hops and Nootka rose. I do root up comfrey every year, and the classic weeds like wild lettuce and herb Robert still find their way in, but sufficient weeding keeps them in check. Some starts take more care when young, and the gardens close to the house offer excellent over-site.
Within the restoration areas of EEC Forest Stewardship, many patches of blackberry can be found. Many are eaten back by forest goats who work 24 hrs a day consuming the vegetation, but blackberry can still take over a clearing in one season, as this thick mat of first year regrowth shows- the roots are still established, and unless we keep cutting it back, the bramble will return. However, if a tree is planted, it’s eventual shade will knock back the blackberry with canopy, and since canopy is the goal, trees are a must. A nursery tree can be transplanted into the blackberry at 3-5 years of established growth. The replanted growth must then be taken out of goat maintenance, meaning all blackberry must be hand cut till the trees establish a canopy, which takes many years.
To fast track forest regeneration, we use already established canopy along the edges of young third growth trees to help younger trees re-establish. In more open areas, entire clearings are replanted, after most of the blackberry has been removed by heavy livestock browsing. If a large number of trees can be established in a protected clearing, including a thick replanting of under-story cover, like vine maple, hazel, and twin-berry helps keep out the unwanted bramble and encourages a good biomass for the future forest. By cultivating young plants, we ensure the longevity of the ecosystem for generations to come.