The Backyard Forest Project
Friday, April 4, 2014
Photo by David Copps:
Do you ever find yourself complaining about the degradation of Tallahassee’s beautiful forest canopy as more and more trees are lost to urban growth and development. Well, now you can do something to offset those losses by participating in The Backyard Forest Project. Here’s how it works.
Take a walk around your backyard and look for opportunities to replace some lawn with a small patch of forest. An area where the grass is struggling in the shade of existing trees is the perfect spot. When leaves fall, let them remain on the ground to build up a rich carpet of mulch. Over time, this organic layer will be broken down and incorporated into the ground by earthworms and other organisms. This creates loose, well-aerated soil and a sustainable source of nutrients for the trees. Well-mulched ground also serves as an excellent sponge, soaking up stormwater run-off to store it for future use by thirsty trees.
Once the mulch is in place, the process of natural regeneration begins as seeds and roots, some of which have been dormant in the soil for many years, start to sprout. Fast growing native trees such as loblolly pine, water oak, sweetgum, and black cherry form the first wave of pioneer species and pave the way for slower growing hardwoods.
In an urban setting, natural regeneration probably won’t provide all of the desired plants. Local nurseries can supply a variety of species to achieve the desired multi-layered forest structure with canopy trees, understory trees, shrubs and groundcovers. Take a cue from nature by combining trees and shrubs with similar environmental requirements. In a shady area, as under a large live oak, try a combination of southern magnolia, American beech, hophornbeam, rusty blackhaw, red buckeye, needle palm and American beautyberry. On drier, sunnier sites, southern red oak, post oak, red cedar, mockernut hickory, sparkleberry, flatwoods plum, yaupon holly and blueberry work well together.
Invasive species including Chinese tallow, privet, and coral ardisia can come up so thickly that desirable trees and shrubs are crowded out. These should be eliminated while small and easily pulled. Desirable groundcovers like partridgeberry, violets and panic grass tend to colonize fairly quickly once mowing stops and the mulch layer builds.
Tallahassee’s urban canopy is composed of many individual trees and wooded patches on thousands of residential, commercial, and public properties throughout the city. The management and care of this precious resource then, is the responsibility of the entire community. Participation in The Backyard Forest Project is a simple but effective way for individuals to contribute to the long-term health of one of Florida’s great urban forests.
David Copps is a certified arborist and landscape designer and member of the advisory committee of University of Florida IFAS Leon County Extension, http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu/