Brush Piles Are Wildlife Hotels

March 6, 2014
When I first began managing a wooded wildlife corridor around my property I thought it best to toss limbs from trees I had pruned, along with invasive species that I had cut down, onto the forest floor to emulate what might had happened if they had just fallen naturally.  But I had a large amount of this debris, and I began to realize that it just started looking messy and was actually interfering with my work in trying to reduce the invasive species.  My father is of the opinion, based on his younger years of cutting firewood to keep our house warm, that it looked nicer if the branches and debris was put nicely into piles.  I decided to give it a try and realized that while it didn’t look so natural as I was going for, it did make the other parts of the forest look more natural, while also allowing me access the invasive species unimpeded.  Then I quickly realized the best attribute to brush piles, they quickly turn into wildlife hotels for rodents and perches for birds.

Brush piles are essential for critters to get out of the elements and to hide from predators, and they can immediately increase your wildlife viewing opportunities.

Some basic guidelines to consider when building a brush pile for wildlife:

-          Choose an area with good drainage near a forest edge and close to existing food and water sources.  And don’t place it near areas you don’t want to encourage critters, like your vegetable garden.

-          Put down larger branches or an old pallet as a foundation to create space at the bottom to create passages for critters to crawl into to escape harsh weather and predators.

-          Build piles six to eight feet high and wide, and two to four per acre separated by 100 to 150 feet.

-          The pile will shrink each year, so brush and debris can be added each season.

-          Native vining plants may be planted and encouraged to grow over the pile to make it more attractive if desired.

Whether you have a little space or acres of land, a pile of sticks and debris organized with a little thought will increase your wildlife viewing pleasure.


Asian Bush Honeysuckle Control Begins In The Winter

January 22, 2014
One of the most invasive exotic shrubs in Mid-Missouri is the Asian Bush Honeysuckle.  This shrub has become more common than any other shrub throughout the neglected landscapes in and around the City of Columbia, as well as other municipalities and subdivisions.  The primary problem it creates is that it outcompetes many of our native shrubs and perennials.   In landscapes where it is uncontrolled, there may be very little other shrub or perennial vegetation.  We can say that it is like a villainous super shrub on a mission of domination.  A handful of bird species eat the fruit and disperse them to new areas where they can colonize and conquer the landscape.  The control of this villain begins with hand pulling in the winter months.

While we have many days that are freezing and wet during the winter months, we also have some really beautiful days when the temperatures are in the 40s or 50s and are quite convincing in getting us to come out from our winter indoor hibernation.  If you are itching to do a little yard work and you have Asian Bush Honeysuckle invading your landscape it’s a perfect time to get moving.

Asian Bush Honeysuckle, while being very tolerant of all the possible Mid-Missouri climatic challenges:  extreme heat, drought, flooding, snow, below zero temperatures, infertile soils, etc., it does have one weakness – a shallow root system.  Hand pulling seedlings is a so easy even a child can help out.   With gloves to protect your skin, simply grab the small plant near the base and give a tug.  You will be surprised how easily they come out of the ground.  For those more physically inclined or up for the challenge, shrubs that are as big as four or five feet can be pulled out.  Unlike some other weeds, the top of the plant will rarely break off before the roots can be pulled out.  The root system is very fibrous and spreads along the surface of the soil often just under leaf litter or loose soils.  While hand pulling can be done any time of the year, the winter months see some of the ideal soil-moisture conditions for allowing the roots to come out easily.  Plus, there isn’t so much landscape work to do this time of year compared to the other seasons.

While it can seem like a daunting task to control this beast, doing an area at a time makes a surprising difference that you will notice.  And keeping on top of it will be much easier than waiting until it has spread like a wildfire, in which control will be nearly impossible without the use of chemicals or fire.


What To Do With All This Snow

January 8, 2014
As the new year has opened with all the elements of winter: snow, ice, and below zero temperatures, most folks are not thinking about their landscape or gardens.  But I suggest that as you figure out where to relocate all that snow, you should be thinking about your landscape and how all that beautiful white stuff will affect your beloved landscape plants this coming growing season.

Damage Control

Heavy snow and ice on your trees and shrubs can damage their branches.  Taking your broom and gently slapping it against your beloved tree or shrub is all it takes to prevent damage.  Be gentle, extreme cold can make the branches unusually brittle.

When removing snow from sidewalks and driveways be mindful of where you pile it.  A lot of shrubs get their branches busted from folks piling snow on them.  Usually the worst damage is down inside the shrub at its base, and is unnoticed until late spring when a branch or large section of the shrub may begin to die from damage from the winter.  If you are hiring someone to do snow removal for you, be clear with them about where you want the snow piled (or not piled) and don’t be afraid to explain to them how important it is to not damage the landscape.  A lot of commercial snow removers work long exhausting hours and are not avid gardeners themselves.   They are often focused on getting their job done quickly and efficiently, which may be to the detriment of your landscape.

Along with the weight of the snow and ice, salt is the other big culprit in winter damage to the landscape.  Salt used for melting snow and ice on sidewalks and roadways often ends up in garden beds and around the roots of trees, shrubs, and perennials.  This salt can severely weaken or even kill your landscape plants.   Be mindful not to overuse salt, especially in areas near sensitive plants.  And when designing landscape areas near sidewalks and driveways, try to use plants that are not as sensitive to salt.

Water Harvesting

When all this snow melts and turns into water it will either soak into your landscape or end up as run-off and go into the street or to poorly drained areas of your landscape (or your neighbors).  Why not mindfully pile up that snow in such a manner so that when it melts it is absorbed into your landscape to be used through the summer by your plants.  Put snow from your driveway or sidewalk into your pond, rain garden, fill your rain barrels, or dump it into an area of your landscape that often gets drier than other parts in the summer.

As you dig yourself out, enjoy the snow, prevent damage, and realize how wonderful it can be for your landscape.


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