Tom's Blog

Sunday, January 9, 2011

January brush cutting at Black Earth Rettenmund

Now that the snow has settled down, it is possible to start brush cutting again. Saturday morning Willis, Kathie, and I made a threesome at the top of the North unit of Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie. Our main target was prairie willow, which threatens to take over the top of the hill. But any small shrubs we could find were fair game. We also cut small patches of gray dogwood and sumac, and the occasional aspen sapling.

The technique is simple. Willis used the Stihl with a sharp blade to cut the willow patches close to the ground and Kathie and I came along behind treating all the cut stems. The paint stick technique was ideal for this, especially since the willow patches were multiple stemmed (often 20 stems or more). We treat with Garlon 4 in oil, which has the added advantage that we could basal bark any stem that Willis missed.

What is this prairie willow (Salix humilis) that is giving us so much trouble? It is native, of course, and grows only a few feet tall. Why should we be worrying about it? Since it is fire-sensitive, and we burn the North unit every other year, it should never get too large. Right? However, in the last few years, despite the burns, it has really spread, and now threatens to take over the knoll. Since this is an area with lots of nice plants (seneca snakeroot, butterfly milkweed, wood lily, etc.), we want to keep it under control.

When Nature Conservancy acquired Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie in 1986, in the area we were working there were some quite large woody areas, including a major aspen clone. Despite the years of restoration work (almost 25 years now), the "memory" of these big shrubs and trees persists, and it is one of the areas where brush control is a perennial battle.


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