I've recently moved into a new place, and am looking for ideas to deal with a line of red cedars along the back fence. They block the view of the highway, so I don't want to get rid of them, but the ground underneath is DEAD. I've considered using the area beneath the trees as a long chicken run with compost areas accessible to them. Another idea is to grow vining crops (top choice is hardy kiwi) up the trunks, but the toxicity of the cedars is a concern there.
Has anyone had any luck planting around cedars, especially vining crops or plants that might be useful to chickens? Or have other ideas for incorporating his area into the yard, rather than just having a dead area along the back of the property?
A blueberry guild might be possible under red cedar trees; I suggest taking a look at what Dan says in this thread. Red cedar may produce allopathic compounds similar to the juglone produced by junipers and black walnuts. I am not sure if all three produce the same compound, but the Black Walnut Guild located on page 21 of the Plant Guilds eBooklet by Bryce Ruddock of Midwest Permaculture and the other species described here may be useful to try growing beneath red cedar.
Thanks for the resource! I should have clarified, these are eastern red cedar, which actually are a juniper species. I hadn't heard that junipers had a juglone similar to walnut, that could be quite helpful. Looking back through the (very authoritative, I know) Wikipedia article, these juniper also increase alkalinity with their leaf-drop, and reduce organic matter and nitrogen from the soil (which in turn leads to compaction). The other thread mentions that they suck up a lot of water too, which isn't exactly overabundant here. So going forward, I'm thinking:
1) Increase soil water retention through a swale just downslope of the cedar stand and a heavy sheet mulch over the whole area, which should counteract the compaction and nutrient loss as well.
2) A buffer of juglone resistant plants (especially mulberry and elderberry, as they are native here and I was considering those already!) as an understory, probably planted in the swale
3) Planting some chicken-resistant, perennial nutrient accumulators and cover crops among the cedars. It seems a lot of the problems with pasture suppression is related to the low branches blocking sunlight, which isn't a problem here thanks to over-zealous pruning. Hopefully the sheet mulch will dilute the ill effects of the cedars enough to get things established, after which it can hopefully be sustained by using more nutrient-accumulating plants than one would otherwise.
Oh, and here's a picture of the area. And yes, that green spot is astroturf... another fall project.
I did a search on Plants For a Future for species that can survive alkaline soils to very alkaline soils in a zone 6 region, and these are some of the more edible species: Siberian Pea Tree, Serviceberry, Sea Buckthorn, and Common Reed. If you do not like the red cedars, maybe they could be used as a nurse tree to protect the others from the sun and hard weather, and when they are big enough, they can shade out the red cedars.
fyi, we found a bunch of wild yarrow growing under a giant eastern red this weekend.
overall, i've observed that the yarrow that is growing most vibrant overall is underneath dappled sunlight,
i/o/w, underneath the shade of a tree but not overwhelmed by it.
haven't seen any growing in deep shade.
also, a conifer mulch might help to balance out the soil chemistry.
haven't tried it, just a hunch.
I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to own. - warhol
I'm not saying it would work everywhere but I consider it proof-of-concept for growing vines under cedars. My own opinion is that the difficult ground under these trees is due mostly to shade and lack of water (as much from precipitation not making it to the ground as from the tree's own consumption). With high pruning, as here, and a swale to sink some water, I think planting something among these trees should be very possible.
I eventually decided that I wanted to put chickens or ducks on this slope eventually, mixed in with productive plants that I could keep mostly out of their reach. A larger, deader area up top can be used for the housing. If chickens, I'll move a compost heap up there too (difficult ground to grow on and the chickens can work it over!). I also wanted to be able to divide into paddocks, so I eventually decided to do hedges on top of swales to divede the areas up and hopefully hide any eventual fencing.
So what I ended up doing was putting a swale about half-way down the slope, which has a hedge of Black Chokeberry (Aronia) started on it. At the base of the slope is another swale, this one is presently planted with a wildflower mix, but I was going to get some Buckbrush (aka Coralberry) to plant along there as well. A few Serviceberry and Redbuds are on the margins, a Buffalo Currant (1 of 4) survived on the slope in the center, and the far fence (from the perspective of the picture) now has a 5 Gray Dogwood running down the slope. 8-9 Comfrey plants are scattered throughout. Most of the plants seem to be doing alright currently, though I haven't seen a whole lot of growth I am hoping that they are putting in roots and getting ready for a big second year. I planted seed for Purslane a few weeks ago but haven't seen any poking up yet. I also have Goji seed and Sea Buckthorn seed, but I haven't tried germinating them yet... will probably try to give them a year in small pots so I can give them a better chance of surviving behind the fence. Oh yeah, we also replaced the fence
Getting some vines up into the cedars is intriguing, I hadn't heard of Mouse Melon before. Something else to look into. I'll try to get a picture taken from the same angle soon for a comparison.
Location: Central KS, Zone 6a. Summer High 91.5F (avg), Winter Low 17.5F (avg). 35.7" Annual Rain
Here's the promised picture. It's certainly greener, though how much of that is the heavy rainfall we've had this year and how much is due to the swales is an open question. It certainly seems that it has helped, the infiltration is so fast I don't usually see standing water, and haven't seen much overland flow during our storms.
The woodchips are free from the city, so far I've filled my car twice.