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Transitioning Cedar to Forest Garden

 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 86
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a
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We have just (as in today!) purchased 21 acres of land in south central TN (zone 7a). About 2/3 of it is wooded with a large percentage of cedar ... there are a few hardwood trees, but not many. We want to transition several acres of this to a forest garden, but I know that cedar does not always play nicely with other children. Any advice on how to transition these areas? Is it simply a matter of clearing the cedar, or are there certain plants that will help to change the soil? We want to do fruit and nut trees, mushrooms, berries, ginseng ... basically any food and/or cash crop that we can think of. Suggestions?
 
Roy Hinkley
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Location: S. Ontario Canada
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I would search these forums for juniper.
What you most likely have is Ashe Juniper not cedar, native to Texas.
 
Dan Boone
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I was assuming Ferne was talking about so-called Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana).

I have a lot of the stuff here. Lots of people talk about it sucking water and creating a dead zone beneath itself, but I don't really see that happening. It's a bushy plant much beloved of birds and wildlife because it's good cover even in winter when other trees (mostly deciduous) are bare. But the bare ground underneath most of these trees on my property is just the result (IMO) of how heavily these trees shade the ground beneath themselves. I have plenty of vegetation around and under most for these trees except where they are very large or densely packed. I've seen no evidence of a true allelopathic effect, though some people argue these trees have one. They are just robust competitors for water and light.

As for clearing them? The word I would suggest is "thin" -- and don't be hasty. As I try to make my cross-timbers woods more food forest-y, my observation has been that all trees are valuable. Establishing new trees is hard, and they support each other in many ways, serving as wind protection, reflecting light and heat, and (some say) exchanging water and nutrients with each other and with other plants via the mycelium network in the forest floor. So I don't take down a tree until I've discovered a particular reason that a particular tree is offending me. Often this is just because an area needs thinning (I am going for an open savanna type landscape) so that light and water resources can be focused on other trees I want to preference, like wild fruit and nut trees or valuable hardwoods. Sometimes I just need the physical space for another tree or plant, or so that I can move through the forest. And when I have too many trees in an area, I rank them by what I want from them. Existing fruit and nut trees get priority, but I also think about wind protection, nitrogen fixing ability of some trees, and wildlife values. My Eastern Red Cedars are among my least valuable trees and are usually a priority target when I need to thin an area, but I am careful to maintain large healthy specimens where I want a windbreak to protect another valuable tree or where there's not another excellent winter habitat tree nearby.

If I cut a substantial tree in error, I've lost between five and thirty years of time before its functions can be replaced with another tree. And because I'm new at this, my track record of getting new trees established (I don't have much budget for large nursery trees) is still pretty poor. So I'm really careful about what I cut. If I'm in doubt, I don't cut it. I leave it. Maybe a week or a month or a year later, if the tree's still bothering me, I cut it then. There are a bunch of trees I considered cutting when I didn't know so much about pemaculture and food forests, that I am now really glad I didn't cut. And since I'm working with hand tools, the list of trees I need to get rid of is essentially endless; I'll never get to them all. So I can afford to focus my efforts on trees that absolutely need to go today.

My advice is not to clear the cedar. You'll have a lot of thinning to do in general as you establish your food tree crops, and you'll probably find that your cedars (actually junipers) are frequently your preferential cut. But in your shoes I wouldn't cut them until -- individually -- you find them in your way.
 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 86
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a
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Thank you. They very well may be juniper ... I was focusing more on topography and water, and at first glance they looked like cedar so that's what I went with. I'll take the time to do a proper tree ID when I get back out there.

I wasn't planning on clear cutting large areas ... but man, there are a lot of those trees, and there does not seem to be much growing around them. Some holly, some low ground plants that I didn't take time to identify, brambles that could be blackberry. Granted, I didn't cover every inch of the 21 acres, so there may be more in there that I'm not aware of yet. It's going to take awhile just to explore it all.

I also don't have a huge budget for trees and other plants, which is why I'm concerned about any allelopathic effect. I really can't afford to put in a bunch of plants just to have them die from being too close to these trees.
But since you seem to be having success, maybe it's not the issue I thought it was. For now I am planning on taking out most of the trees in a very small edge section just to get enough sunlight for some fruiting shrubs. It will be interesting to see if anything pops up there once I remove the trees.

Thanks for the help.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I'm wondering the same thing here a my place, too. I have Western Red Cedar trees all over. Right next to my house is a lot of dirt that I need to clear away, and I'd love to use it in hugelkulture... the only problem being that it's full of cedar roots. I used some of the soil last year in a garden bed, and nothing really grew. I don't know if that was my own ineptitude, or the cedar (or a mix of both). How long do the allelopathic qualities of cedar last, anyway?
 
Dan Boone
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In support of my theory that Eastern Red Cedar doesn't really have the allelopathic qualities often imputed to it, here's a picture I just took of one at the edge of my property. I've bumped the gamma in that ellipse in the center so you can see the grass growing well in beneath the lower branches in the shade under the tree. That's my rescue dog Marvin who came bumming into the shot just as I was taking it:



In the right-hand side of the picture below, you can see mouse melons (Melothria pendula, a sort of wild cucumber) growing lushly up into the foliage of another Eastern Red Cedar on my property. Picture is from this thread, where there are more pictures:

 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 86
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a
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Nice pics ... thank you!

I have decided to clear out a small edge section and intentionally plant it, and clear out a second edge section and see what pops up. There is so much dead wood in the sections I'm talking about that I will most likely end up removing only 3-4 trees.

Tell Marvin he's very photogenic.
 
Dan Boone
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Thank you, I will tell him!

I just got done cutting a whole bunch of dead branches off several Eastern Red Cedars as part of my feral peach orchard rehabilitation project. The ideal thing to do with all that dead wood would, I suppose, be to bury it in a hugel bed; but I don't have the excavation capacity right now so instead I stacked it all along the fence line, where it will shade (and eventually mulch/fertilize) the ground as it decomposes. I'm hoping it will meanwhile serve as a perch for birds and a hideaway for small ground creatures, who will burrow and poop and aerate and fertilize and generally improve the soil condition for the nearby trees. If you have a lot of dead wood and aren't set up to make hugels yet, you've got the chance to make awesome brushpiles!
 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 86
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a
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We've already got quite a few awesome brush piles. I think I'll end up running a bunch of it through the chipper. Mulch and bedding are always good things.
 
siu-yu man
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Location: zone 6a, north america
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idea for barren spots under cedars/junipers: how about wintergreen?
going to try seeding some myself this spring.
if anyone knows a good seed source for this in bulk, please feel free to share.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau, Ferne and Dan,

Here's some interesting information on Juniperus Virginiana, also known as the sacred cedar (red heart wood stands for blood, white sap wood stands for flesh).

General: Cypress Family (Cupressaceae). Red cedar (Juniperus Virginiana) is a medium-sized dioecious or rarely monoecious tree from 10-20 m (33-66') tall (McGregor et al. 1986, Stephens 1973).

The evergreen tree is shaped like a pyramid or column, with reddish-brown to grayish colored bark that is fibrous and shedding.

Branches are usually reddish- brown. Leave are opposite, simple, green or blue- green, closely appressed and overlapping the leaf above, scale-like, and 0.2-0.3 cm (1/16-1/8”) long or needlelike and 0.6-1.2 cm (1/4-1/2”) long.

Male and female cones are on separate trees.

The staminate (male) cones are yellowish-brown, papery, solitary at the tips of branchlets, ovoid to ellipsoid, and 0.2-0.4 cm (1/16-1/8”) long.

The ovulate (female) cones are solitary at the tips of branchlets, dark blue or bluish- purple, waxy and berrylike, 0.4-0.7 cm (3/16-1/4”) long.

The female cones ripen from September through October. There are 1-3 seeds per cone.
Red cedar seeds are yellow-brown and round, 2-4 mm in diameter, ridged near the base, and sometimes shallowly pitted.

Foliage: Scale-like except awl-like when young; evergreen
Height: About 40 feet
Spread: About 15 feet
Shape: Typically narrow conical tree but ranges from conical to columnar (column-like)

Main features:

Eastern red cedar is widely distributed throughout the eastern US. It is a pioneer species in that is quickly populates farm fields and other open areas (seeds spread in bird droppings). Its common place presence throughout makes it suffer the stigma of being too familiar. However, this species certainly has a place in our landscapes since there are cultivars that have dark green foliage, showy “fruit”, and a variety of forms (see Additional Information section). It is also tolerant of poor dry soils as well as alkaline soils.

Plant Needs:

Zone: 3 to 9
Light: Full sun
Moisture: Average to dry
Soil type: Any type except poorly drained
pH range: Acid to somewhat alkaline
Function

Eastern red cedar has numerous landscape functions including specimen plant, in mass, as a hedge and windscreen, in a border, and as foundation plant (shrub forms).

Care:

No special care is needed. This species is very tolerant of pruning (do not cut into wood without foliage).

Additional Information:

Eastern red cedars, like all junipers are dioecious which means that there are separate male and female plants. The silver-gray cones (fleshy coverings on seeds often referred to as juniper “berries) on females are quite attractive in the fall and winter. Male plants can be distinguished from female plants in the late winter because male cones (which bear pollen) are brown and are borne at branch tips giving male plants an overall brownish appearance in late winter. Eastern red cedar is a misnomer since this species is a juniper and not a true cedar; cedars are in the Cedrus genus.

This species is not known to be allelopathic. It is however quick to spread over an area.

So there you go Dan, your theory is correct.
The trees do suck up a lot of water (as do most conifers) and this, along with the shading via the low to the ground growing branches, usually creates a "dead zone" under the trees.
Just about anything you plant, provided you trim up the lower branches to allow light to hit the ground, will grow around these trees.

If you decide to burn them, all I ask is that you be respectful and offer up prayers to Wakan Tanka.
We burn this wood as incense, to cleanse the area of bad spirits and to take our prayers to the Creator of all things.
There are documented cases where spirits have prevented the wood to burn because it was not done with the spirits in thought.

Ferne, I would remove small diameter trees, this will open up areas for you to plant. Do remove any dead branches, they suck life out of the living tree.
The dead branches make a great chipped mulch or if large enough (1.5" dia. and larger) a siyotanka can be crafted from them. * Siyotanka is the Native American Flute *

Pilamayaye, Luta Cetan
 
Dan Boone
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Thanks Bryant!

Bryant RedHawk wrote:
If you decide to burn them, all I ask is that you be respectful and offer up prayers to Wakan Tanka.


Before being exposed to permaculture notions I burned rather a lot of my accumulated brush from clearing in these woods. As others have discovered before me, a small burn can create a zone of fertility and reprieve from weed competition, and thus a planting opportunity.

However, the more I've observed my plantings and their struggles, the less inclined I find myself to burn surplus wood and branches. To the point where I find the idea faintly horrifying, actually. Under my conditions these materials seem to do more observable good as ground cover/shade and rough mulch, increasing water retention in the soil rather than decreasing it as burning does. Plus -- despite the very real value of ash and char as a soil amendment -- I think there's more return of fertility to the soil through decomposition under my conditions. Lastly, I've come to realize the value of brush piles for wildlife habitat, and thus as nutrient accumulators. The accumulations of bird and rodent poop on and beneath these piles are often visible. So now I don't burn.

 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau, Dan,
Like you, I try not to burn anything, with the one exception of making hard wood biochar for new areas of vegetable garden and our fruit orchard and the vineyard. This is a one time event though and I use blow-downs from the north facing slope for the material. We have one huge brush pile that has become a home for some rabbits and I'm sure there are many other critters there that we can't find the evidence of. I also have an area that I am going to turn into a deer bedding area, we have a permanent deer trail system on our farm and we have decided to leave those areas for the deer. I am putting in deer food plots per the advice of our Game and Fish Representative, pretty cool how these guys come in and survey then offer up specific things to do to improve the habitat to the deer's advantage. He also found signs of turkey activity and they are included in my food plot planting plan. Our biggest challenge for this part of asnikiye heca is to keep the deer and turkey out of our food gardens, orchard and vineyard. I use scarlet and white clovers for most of my ground covers to start then add in buckwheat, oats, soybeans, sorghum, triticale and peas. In the areas we use for "lawn" we just mow this stuff and take the cut material to the composting area, works great so far.

On our south facing slope I am building growing mound swales to regulate the rain run off. We are fortunate in the respect that I don't have to haul wood to build these, there are plenty of downed trees after last years tornado came through. It missed us but the residual winds did enough damage to the dead trees that I have plenty of rotting wood close at hand to do the builds. Once they are done I will have nice areas to expand the vineyard and there will be a water plume to keep them supplied.

Our biggest challenge is that we have no earth moving machinery, all being done with shovel, pick and rake. This keeps us in close contact with the earth mother and that is always a good thing. I am hoping this year to build our medicine wheel and dance circle.
 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 86
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a
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Thank you, Bryant! I really appreciate the info.

I'm glad to learn that I don't have to clear these trees out in order to get something edible to grow ... I do like them. I just want to tip the balance a little more in favor of plants that will feed us and the livestock. I would much prefer to just trim them back as necessary.

I love the idea of deer food plots! The areas in the NW corner of the property will pretty much be left to wildlife ... we are probably never going to need that space, and there are already some impressive brush piles back there. They will have access to a little piece of the creek, assuming they can convince the beavers to share. I hadn't really thought about intentionally planting for them, though. It probably won't happen this year, but I will put it on the list for next spring.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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