A woodland generates a subtle hush and a reminder that nature is indeed awesome. It has atmosphere, personality, and four-season interest, and it will last for generations. It can add to your property value and your quality of life.
Discover the BenefitsPlanting trees, even small ones, can have an immediate impact. Trees add height and all-season focal points, offer a desirable alternative for areas of unwanted lawn, create the opportunity for a new planting bed at their feet, and attract birds and butterflies.
From three to ten years after they're planted, trees start to have a larger effect on their surroundings:
Choose a StyleThough trees dominate a woodland, it hosts many other plant species as well, and the mix and placement of all the plants will determine how a particular area looks and feels.
The character of a woodland can vary from forbidding to inviting, serenely minimal to wildly crowded, dark shade to dappled. Choose the character you like, but make sure before you invest your money, effort, and time that your land will support the style of woodland you choose.
Here are just a few of the possible woodland ecosystems:
The appropriate field guide will give you a set of woodland models to choose from, if woodlands are indigenous to your region. It can also give you a rough idea of the "look" of a particular type of woodland.
Think in LayersLayers are crucial in woodland design. A woodland is a set of niches that can be filled by plants with different forms and habits, but each spatial gap must be addressed.
There's the canopy, the tallest trees that tower over the other plants and create the ceiling.Understory
Understory trees and shrubs are suited to grow beneath the canopy trees and survive in the dappled shade they cast. Understory plants can be five feet high or twenty feet high, depending on how close they are to each other, how much light the top trees let through, and how high the canopy is.Ground
Covering the ground beneath it all are the herbaceous plants of the woodland floor. Early-flowering ephemerals have adapted to take advantage of the greater light under deciduous trees in spring. A few deep shade lovers thrive under the skirts of evergreens. More varied and light-dependent plants spring up in clearings. Sedges, ferns, mosses, and broad-leaf perennials scatter through the woods, each seeking its assigned place, the place to which it has adapted over millennia.
Choose the PlantsThere are so many varieties of each of these categories of plants. It's best to choose natives for durability, though homeoclimactic plants also possess the character to help them last long and wear well.
Consult the field guides for lists of plants that grow in your target ecosystem. You can make an initial list of key species using a field guide or two, then supplement your list with suitable plants that you particularly enjoy. A state government agency in charge of natural resources or an ecology department at a local university might also be able to provide lists of appropriate plants.
Making the list of plants is, however, not the hard part. It is much harder to find sources of the plants you want, so you may want to take your field guide's description of the target ecosystem into a local native plant nursery and ask for help finding the listed species or appropriate substitutes.
If these sources fail, turn to local garden clubs, native plant catalogs (consult Barbara J. Barton's compendium of catalogs, Gardening By Mail ), staff at a regional arboretum or botanical garden, your gardening friends, and local or national native plant societies for information and plant or seed sources.
Orchestrate the Transition
Having a child isn't the only way to leave a legacy. Properly designed and kept healthy, your woodland can last for generations. It's a gift to your descendents and to those who will live on or near your property in the future.
Maintain ItThe main work of a woodland is in planting it and helping it to establish in good health. Maintenance after the first few years will decrease to nearly nothing. You may have to deal with damages from storms and other natural disasters, and perhaps patrol occasionally for invasive plants that are brought in by animals or wind, but healthy established woodlands demand no regular maintenance.
However, if you start with young trees, they will use more of the soil nutrients and moisture and cast more shade as they mature, so understory conditions will change over time, and you will likely need to adjust your plant mix. This will be a relatively slow process, and it will vary depending on how many years your trees need to reach their mature sizes.
Bonus TipYou'll get more benefit from your woodland if you spend time in it. Here are some ideas for making it people-friendly:
Want to grow an edible woodland?
Other LessLawn articles about woodlands:
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