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Planting a forest garden where cedars have been cut down  RSS feed

 
steward
Posts: 1810
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I am wondering what kind of remediation might be needed to plant a forest garden where cedars have recently been cut. I know that there are lots of plants and trees that won't grow near cedar.

Would I need to dig out the roots?

Would I need to wait a while before planting? How long?

If I need to wait, what can I do to speed up the process?

Thanks,
Tracy

 
master steward
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I'd love to know the answer to this question, too!

I had taken some of the soil that was around a western RedCedar tree we cut down, and I used it to make a hugel....and the hugel is not terribly productive. Either the soil was contaminated by being next to my house and who knows what the previous owner did there, or my hugel-making skills stink, or the cedar soil does inhibit growth. I tried to plant mint and catnip in that soil, and the 6 different mint plants are all struggling and growing slowely, or died. I think the catnip died, too. These plants are supposed to take over!

BUT, the blackcap raspberries growing right next to the stump are doing fantastic! There's also red elderberry growing there, and trailing blackberry. Salal, Oregon Grape, and red huckleberries are also doing fantastic in primarily cedar soil that I have elsewhere on my property. I used some of that soil to grow some Cascade Huckleberries, and they seem to be doing well, too! Hazelnuts also seem to do well in the cedar-y soil.

I don't know about remediation, but maybe growing these types of plants would help remediate it...and even if they don't at least you'll get some food out of the area!
 
pollinator
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We live in SW Missouri where cedars are EVERYWHERE and were once an important industry for pencil making, posts, fence boards and as sheathing for saunas (the latter two products are still pretty important in this area). On our own land, we cleared about 50 acres of them several years back (working with the MO Department of Conservation to re-establish native glades on our property) so we got to see first-hand what sort of changes take place in the landscape from the "before" picture -- with cedars making up maybe 65% of the total shrub/tree cover and then "after" when other species came back in as a result of their eradication. It seemed almost miraculous how fast other species just popped up when the cedars were removed. Honestly, I thought it would take much longer, but by the following spring, after a summer spent cutting them down, we had native grasses and wildflowers everywhere. Apparently, it only requires getting them out of the way for new growth to simply come back on its own. Even tiny trees -- everything from redbuds, dogwoods, and other understory trees to small oaks, hickories and elms came back almost immediately. We even got a surprising flush of things like smoke trees and fringe trees that established so quickly and in such profusion that they became invasive in their turn and needed to be thinned.

Phytotoxins produced by Juniperus virginiana (Eastern red cedar) are found in the living "leaves" of the plant rather than in the roots and bark, so when the tree is cut down, my thinking is that those toxins are effectively removed from the system at lightning speed. At least that is the conclusion I have arrived at after 25 years of watching new growth sprout practically overnight where stumps have barely had time to dry out. It may be different in different landscapes (ours is particularly well-drained dolomite/ limestone with almost no soil over it), but that is our experience, for what it's worth.
 
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You might try planting some of our native edible forest and forest edge plants since most of them seem to be able to handle red cedars fine. If there is shade Pacific waterleaf and red wood sorrel could both be great and miners lettuce might do good too. Stinging nettles could do well too.

I would also try things like the native huckleberries both the evergreen and red ones. Serviceberry, coastal gooseberry thimbleberry and potentially salmonberry.

Could mix in some of the edible ferns and also some edible root crops such as springbank clover, wapato in wetter parts, and tiger lily.

My main thought with this is that the natives might help prepare the soil for other more sensitive plants. There are a lot of native edibles on the Pacific coast. Though you would need to be careful since some of the natives might spread a bit too much in a nice rich former forest area.

If you plant some native hardwoods like bigleaf maple and red alder my bet is that their leaf litter would help improve the soil. You could coppice the maple and chop and drop the alders until the alders gave up. That way you would leave room for your other plants.

Just some thoughts though from my own observations there are a lot of native plants that do fine around cedars.
 
Tracy Wandling
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Excellent info. Thanks, gang!

That makes a lot of sense - start with the native species, and gently introduce the other things that I'll want to have growing in my forest garden. And yes, we do have a LOT of berries that like to grow here in the Pacific North West. And berry bushes will provide nice protection for seedling trees. AND! As the trees grow, I can use excess berry bushes for chop and drop. AND! As the soil chemistry changes, I can plant the ground cover and other sensitive plants that I want.

Thank you
Tracy

 
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Isn't it just red cedars that have the growth inhibitor? 

Redwood trees have that kind of growth inhibitor, but if one is cut down, the trunk and roots die and compost, become unrecognizable, it becomes quite rich compost and is usable for most plants.  It just has to be really, really broken down over time.

If you have the regular cedars, then the soil there should be rich with compost, and just exposing that soil to sunshine ought to make it easy to use.
 
Deb Stephens
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Cristo Balete wrote:Isn't it just red cedars that have the growth inhibitor?



This is a perfect example of why taxonomic names are so important. We have Juniperus virginiana (commonly known as eastern red cedar) where we live, but cedars out west may be something completely different -- like western red cedar or even actual CEDAR, not juniper. To avoid confusion, it might be helpful if we knew exactly what the scientific name of Tracy's cedar is before we discuss any more options.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I would also try things like the native huckleberries both the evergreen and red ones. Serviceberry, coastal gooseberry thimbleberry and potentially salmonberry. 



Walking around and looking at what's growing/producing in the roots of dead and living cedars, I see: thimblberries, salmonberries, black cap raspberries, trailing and Himalayan blackberries, red elderberries, red hucklberries, sorrel, miners lettuce, native roses, stink currant and stink gooseberry. Looks like most berries will do well!
 
Tracy Wandling
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We have Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) here on the west coast.
 
gardener
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In general, it is my belief that concerns about alleopathy are very often larger than the reality. Trees that get this reputation may get it in large part by outcompeting smaller plants for light and water, not by actual chemical means. True chemical alleopathy, when found, usually seems most pronounced in its effects on tender overbred annual garden vegetable varities and flowers.  The typical hardy and robust food forest perennials favored by the usual permies reader is going to laugh off chemical alleopathic residuum from a dead tree nine times out of ten — or such is my suspicion and belief.
 
pollinator
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Dan Boone wrote: Trees that get this reputation may get it in large part by outcompeting smaller plants for light and water, not by actual chemical means.



True- to a point. The juniper seems to be very good at killing off competitors by having a very shallow root system that also puts out some nasties, weakening competitors two ways. The good news per one of my buddies who is a very high-end tree guy is that the sapwood of the juniper will rot, just at maybe half the speed of a hardwood root. Unfortunately that is the same reason that fast-grown trunks make poor fenceposts. They get voids where the sapwood is rotting and the posts degrade. He said they are fine for buildings, just not good in soil contact.

I have been in eastern red cedar eradication mode for a year, and they do rot fairly well. I have been mulching around them with some mixed mulch to introduce fungi, but I suspect the spores at least are common here anyhow. Western true cedars are more resistant to rot from what I understand but I could be wrong.

The grass is growing literally in the cedar stumps so I think at least it has no problem with any leftover chemicals.
 
Dan Boone
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Interesting. In these parts, Eastern Red Cedar (actually a juniper) fence posts have a good rep for longevity; but a standing dead TREE will rot at the roots and fall over in just two or three years.  I speculate it’s because the roots are so shallow and exposed to the elements and soil life, not buried in clay that’s bone dry much of the year.

But where we have cut the lower branches of Red Cedar to let in light and rain, the so-called “dead zone” for which they are infamous has vanished.  I haven’t tried specific plantings, but local grasses and weeds move right in.
 
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Western ceder will only grow with good moisture, swaps ect. Although once established they will grow even after the land has been drained. So yoy may have a spot where some swales or a dam and you could keep some of those winter rains on the property.
 
Tj Jefferson
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In these parts, Eastern Red Cedar (actually a juniper) fence posts have a good rep for longevity



Maybe I should write this up. Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) heartwood (the dark purple) will resist rot incredibly. Fences and structures can last for a century. Amazing material! The problem is that those are found growing slowly in competition in the woods, not the new growth pioneer trees. Those pioneer trees have maybe a couple inches of heartwood, the rest is sapwood. If you can keep them dry they will last for a long time. But for ground installation they won't. The local guys here that do fencing say the suppliers are happy to tell you they will last 40 years, because they are not going to be around to answer for it. They said they won't last even as well as black locust in this climate.

I found a picture on a website of a supplier (lots coming out of AR and MO) that shows their representative tree. No bueno.

Better fenceposts in Oklahoma would be Osage Orange! Those last decades and they grow fast. I am growing some here. Mine grow up to four feet a year, they really are awesome and the deer don't seem interested. I have only a few trial seedlings but this fall I am going to collect seeds. I really think that is an amazing tree. Plus I can graft my che berries on them.
 
Dan Boone
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I was going to mention Osage Orange but I didn't want to drag the thread even further off topic...  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I do think our soil and ground conditions may play a role in letting wooden fence posts last longer here in general.  We don't have or use black locust, but honey locust (said to be quite similar) lasts something like the 40 year figure you disparage in connection with the black.  Red cedar is thought to be somewhat better, but it could well be that our smart fence guys know about the heartwood nuance you are talking about and it just never got mentioned in my hearing.  Osage Orange, meanwhile, is indeed the queen of fencewood around here, and a good osage orange post is supposed locally to last a hundred years.  Possibly (probably)  hyperbole, but there's a fence line at the back of this property where the fence dates to sometime in the 1920s when the oil boom hit, and though the fence itself is mostly down due to trees falling on it, there are many erect wooden posts that are most likely osage orange.  I can't speak to possible maintenance prior to 1970 or so, but there's been none since then per family oral tradition.

The trouble with osage orange is that in our conditions at least, its growth factor is almost never straight -- it grows in gnarled clumps with multiple trunks and then starts curving back toward the earth in big arches under the weight of the fruit, with odd vertical spires starting up from the arches as the tree gets older.  Only in very dense canopy forest do you find a rare tall straight tree, and these are highly prized (seeing as how we are in Indian Country) for various cultural purposes such as making bows and ball sticks (for a sport that is the precursor to lacrosse).  This property is covered in Osage Orange but finding a fence post length that's not got a curve would be a neat trick.  I do think I could grow them in a fairly densely coppiced plantation about four per stump, but I haven't tried it.  You do see quite a few "artisanal" fences made from crooked posts, but that is a pain to construct and maintain compared to working with regular material, plus this is ranching country and a lot of ranchers have "fence pride" and won't be caught dead with irregular-looking fences.
 
Dan Boone
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Further to my comments about using Osage Orange for fence posts, here are two trees I photographed this morning. The one on the left is a typical mature tree: large, multi-trunked, gnarled, bent, thick-stemmed.  There’s be a day’s chainsaw work taking it down and if you got four straight fence posts from somewhere among the upper branches, it would be a shock.  You would need a sawmill or a huge hydraulic splitter to reduce heavy logs to split rail sizes, and they would likely be too short even so.

In the right of the photo is a much rarer beast: a tall straighter much younger Osage Orange tree that is suitable right now for cutting into several fence posts. Only I would not dare. So highly prized are balks of straight-grained Osage Orange wood by local Creek and Seminole bowyers, that I would not dream of cutting that tree until one of them had looked at it and said yeah or nay as to its suitability for bow wood or other crafting needs.
580D0529-294C-470C-B335-9CFF99A9D1EB.jpeg
[Thumbnail for 580D0529-294C-470C-B335-9CFF99A9D1EB.jpeg]
Two contrasting Osage Orange trees
 
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Tracy Wandling wrote:I am wondering what kind of remediation might be needed to plant a forest garden where cedars have recently been cut. I know that there are lots of plants and trees that won't grow near cedar.

Would I need to dig out the roots?

Would I need to wait a while before planting? How long?

If I need to wait, what can I do to speed up the process?

Thanks,
Tracy



The Junipers do more to acidify the soil than they do via allopathy, to speed up the decomposition of the root systems you need to add mycelium (mushroom slurries do wonderful things for such a soil).
Pick the fungi that love the conifers such as chicken of the woods and other edibles, that way when they fruit you can have some very tasty meals from your soil that is only getting better from the hyphae network you installed.
When you plant, these fungi will be in place, ready to help those plants grow and gather nutrition.  At this time of year, you probably would add the fungi now and then when the timing is right for a fall garden go ahead and plant it, the fungi won't mind a bit.

Redhawk

Dan, you are right in thinking that most of the allopathy of junipers is caused by sunlight deprivation and moisture deprivation, but there are compounds released by the roots (mostly for non acid loving bush type plants).
Cedar that has been stripped of its bark will last a very long time as fence posts, leave the bark on and they will rot quicker than a pine board left on the surface of the soil.

 
Tj Jefferson
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Bryant, I appreciate your input on the topic. Good stuff, as usual.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:
Cedar that has been stripped of its bark will last a very long time as fence posts, leave the bark on and they will rot quicker than a pine board left on the surface of the soil.



Just found this one out the fun way. We'd buried a big cedar trunk/post (it was a good 8-10 inches in diameter at the bottom) to use as a clothesline three years ago. Today we discovered it had rotted right at the soil level. We discovered that because the whole thing cracked and was falling over! We hadn't stripped the bark off before burring it!  Now I'm thinking we should probably dig up the one we just buried a month ago, and strip the bark off of it, so it lasts more than a few years!
 
Dan Boone
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I have seen a lot of differing anecdotes and opinions and experience-based statements about the lifetimes of Eastern Red Cedar (a juniper) posts when buried in or exposed to soil, both here on this forum and locally in Oklahoma.  The thing is, none of them match each other. 

I am beginning to form my own theory that results are exquisitely sensitive to soil type, soil moisture levels, and possibly to local biota populations (mycology/insect), as well as to the nature of the wood itself (cf the heartwood/softwood distinction mentioned upthread).  It could even vary depending on weather patterns over the years in question, with resulting effects on whether and for how long soils in contact with the wood stay saturated. 

Overall, folks in these parts report much better luck with buried bark-on cedar fence posts than the collected "received wisdom" of most folks here on Permies.  But there is a ton of variability even in local accounts.  I no longer give much weight to other people's heavy pronouncements of fact on this topic; my silent question is "did you set those posts in my yard?"  In fact I set some Red Cedar posts of my own in a non-critical application (a dog fence) about three months ago, so I'll start getting my own data in months and years to come.  
 
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