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Buckthorn Therapy

By Peter Hill, Haldimand Chapter

Our little heaven is in Haldimand County, Carolinian Canada country! It’s long and narrow and of the 80+ acres (I still haven’t converted to hectares), some 30 acres at the southern end is wooded. It’s a nice mix of hardwood species with some conifers thrown in. It has vernal pools, wetland and a slightly rolling nature. On the east side it is adjacent to our neighbour’s large 20-year-old white pine plantation, and the total interconnected forest through several properties must run to over 300 acres.


We don’t live on the property – it is some 35 km away from where we live – so it is not easy to regularly monitor what is going on. But our family enjoys spending time in the woods, listening to the Photo 1 Aerial view of property showing planting siteAerial view of property showing planting sitesilence nature provides in the middle of a concession and having a BBQ/picnic.

Nine years ago, in 2005, our Haldimand chapter members organized a plant at our place, and on the last week of April we machine planted several thousand seedlings in the 10-acre meadow to the north of the existing forest. Unfortunately, in that year, it was the weekend on which a six-week drought started, and we lost all the trees with the exception of some 20 tenacious white pines.

One of the problems in our part of Haldimand is the notorious Haldimand clay soil. It is heavy, dense and like adobe brick when dry. I dare say that you could use a clod of it to hammer a nail into a board. Had the soil been more loamy, it might have continued to hold the much-needed moisture during this dry spell. But it isn’t loam and it didn’t.

The loss of all these trees which involved so much effort and cooperative spirit among our chapter’s members took a great mental toll; I was so dispirited that I didn’t even think of trying again until last year, when Paul Robertson of the Niagara chapter listened to my story and suggested a replant.

Photo 3 the common buckthorn resized for webThis brings me to the value of belonging to the OWA. I have been involved with the Haldimand chapter, officially called the Haldimand & Area Woodlot Owners’ Association, from its start in 1997. I have been active on its board of directors, and this involvement has given me a wealth of knowledge and a load of experiences that have enriched my life. I have met inspiring people, like Paul, and visited places I would never have been to and have enjoyed the company of others who have similar interests. None of this would have happened if I had merely paid my annual fee and gone my own way without involving myself.

Anyway, back to the planting. Paul, who is a professional forester and owner of Trees Unlimited, took a look at the meadow which we had planted before and reported that there was a very large common buckthorn infestation which had to be removed as soon as possible and prior to any planting ideas I had. We wrote up a contract, and he and his associates started work in the spring of 2014.

Photo 6 Six weeks later resized for webThe buckthorn had grown quite high. I might have caught it much earlier if I had ventured farther into the meadow over the years, but our activities were largely confined to the woodlot itself.

Lesson #1 – Walk your property and know what’s there!

You can see by the height of the people in the photo that some buckthorn had grown to over 10 feet. A chainsaw was used to cut the buckthorn down at ground level, and then a potent herbicide, Garlon, was sprayed on the cut. Very little was needed to achieve dieback.

The tops had to be removed, and they were piled high in the centre of the meadow in a large temporarily flooded swale. The plan was to burn this later in the season. This removal process took a full day to complete.

 Dan Romanoski, a member of our chapter, did the work with a tractor that was equipped with a front end loader and a bush hog attached on the rear end. The bush hog was used to clear some of the lesser vegetation in preparation for the plant.

Later, in May, the tree-planting crew arrived with their load of 5,600 seedlings. By this time, the huge pile of tops from the buckthorn had diminished and the spring flooding had receded, leaving a clear area to plant. As well, the treated basal areas of the buckthorn had started to degrade. The dark rims around the edges can be seen in the photo.

Photo 15 resized for webAgain, it took a full day to plant the meadow, and the progress can be seen in the photos of the activity. The meadow is clear, and several lines of flags were paced out to guide the tractor operator to follow straight lines.

The seedlings were sorted by species and selected for planting as the terrain dictated: some species in the lower areas and others in the higher areas.

Of course, it is important to follow up on plantings to check on progress and problems. One of the problems we had had was that of ATV riders crossing the meadow. So we wrote a letter to all our neighbours indicating that we had just planted the field and that we’d appreciate their cooperation in not travelling over it. I am glad to say that we no longer have that problem, and we are thankful to our neighbours for their cooperation. Now all we need is similar help from the deer and voles not feeding on the seedlings this coming winter!

A check-up in mid-July saw the seedlings in good shape with a high survival rate – Paul’s estimate is 96 percent. I have made recent surveys (September and October), and everything seems to be in order.

All in all, this has been an interesting and valuable experience, with the weather cooperating by providing rain when needed over the summer. So the prognosis is good, but the story is not over, for I hope that the first winter is just as kind to the seedlings as the summer was.

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