Incremental Forest, or trees and patience

A chronicle of our lawn-to-woods conversion


August 2018. Starting to look like a forest. Mostly black locust here.  Many more photos of the changes from 2016-2018 to come.



First summer, 2016. Can’t see the tree seedlings.


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April 2016. These photos were taken just after the 700 bare-root seedlings of early-successional trees and shrubs were planted. In the foreground  (above photo) are twelve heirloom apple trees that were also planted.


Actually, this looks kind of nice. But I didn’t want three acres of lawn–seems like waste of Earth and fossil fuels. And, the tiny meadow (unmown grass) looks good here, but most of the time it looked messy and attracted even more deer who bedded down in the grass, and I wasn’t getting much diversity as the deer ate anything I planted.














Site Assessment

Students are encouraged to do a site assessment of their property during the class series. With this, we start to observe what’s going on in our landscape and to think about where we might want to make changes. For some of us (including me) this can be a bit of a challenge. I’m going to post screenshots of pages in the student manual, and also some other links that may be helpful.

If you have not been doing a site assessment, it’s ok; you don’t have to turn anything in.  Please keep coming to class for the information!

See for Mapping resources for links to several sites that have ways to map your yard. If what I have here doesn’t help you, try one of those methods.

And, scroll down to the end of this post to see examples.

Ok, so you start with this (screen shot below), making your base map, from the student manual. You can see the page numbers on the screen shots, so you can go to your student manual for larger images.
For your base map, you can use Loudoun County weblogis (see Mapping resources), Web Soil Survey, or your tax plat. The county mapping services (Loudoun and Fairfax both have excellent online services) can serve not only as base maps, but also can tell you about your soil and water, among other things. See directions for using Loudoun’s platform at Mapping resources.

The manual suggests that you make copies of the base map, and then overlays of the other features. Some students have done it this way. Others have put most of the information on one page. See what works for you. For me, the overlays have been cumbersome to deal with.

Anything that works for you is fine!  (Even sketching features in your yard without measuring is acceptable–the point is to get out and observe.)

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Then, observe your soils, and make an overlay or add them to your drawing. See pages 27-28 in the Manual.
Pay attention to areas that seem compacted or eroded.

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Next, observe where your water flows or ponds, and map that. See page 54 in the Student Manual for directions.

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Page 77 in the Manual explains how to map your existing plants, and your sun/shade:

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A resource I like to use for thinking about sun and shade is “How much sun does your garden have?”

Pages 92-93 give guidelines for how to use plants to increase energy efficiency.

Finally, this page below asks some questions that are helpful in planning changes you may want to make in your garden:

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It asks whether you have invasives–if you aren’t familiar with them yet, then go here or bring a photo to class.

I also want to encourage anyone who is interested to attend a session I’m planning on how to use Habitat Network.
This is a platform developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and The Nature Conservancy.  I would like to see if it could be helpful for students doing their site assessments.


Here’s my Habitat Network map in progress at Saturday’s workshop at Va. Working Landscapes. Megan Whatton from The Nature Conservancy leads the group in working on their maps.

Contact me if you would be interested in attending a two-hour session with a staff member from The Nature Conservancy on using Habitat Network mapping.  It would be helpful if you had a laptop you could bring. Otherwise you’d need to learn about the platform during the session, and apply what you’ve learned at home.







Finally, below are some examples from Jennifer Lumley. Jennifer did a really nice job, and already knows what plants she has, so don’t be intimidated by this–it’s just an example of what one person did.
Notice that she thought about the trajectory of the sun, as well as which parts get sun and shade. (You’d have to watch the sun/shade patterns for a year to really figure that out, but do your best.)





A few links from sites pertinent to Soils class this past week:

Don’t forget to look at Mapping resources for help with your site analysis.

March 20 Class:
Landscape designer Susan Abraham will give a presentation and then will review a few site analyses done by students. Let me know if you’d like to have your site analysis reviewed by Susan during the class. Please come to class regardless of whether you have your site analysis–there is always plenty to learn from the review of others’ sites.

For those who missed the field trip info during the first class:
The field trip will take place on April 7.
We will start in The Grange (this is the name of the community where Sycamore House is located) at 9:00 am (meeting location TBD, but will be near Sycamore House).
Join us for coffee and pastries.
We will visit two native plant locations and learn about the design and installation of the gardens and plant selections in each space.
We will then go to Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Native Plant Sale.


Take the Soil Quiz!

Take this 10 question quiz before the second class:
Soil Health Quiz

Also: One of the biggest issues that homeowners are dealing with is compaction.
This is one of the things you are looking for as you observe your yard for your site assessment this week.
If you are unfamiliar with the topic of compaction, look under Soils in the banner above and select “Compaction.”
Your student manual also explains compaction starting on page 26. You’ll learn more about compaction and other soil issues when Alex Darr speaks next Tuesday.

For directions on using the Loudoun County mapping site and some other mapping sites, go to Mapping resources.  If you have trouble, email me.


Bees, Bugs and Blooms–research from PennState


One of the things covered in this past week’s class was how to bring more pollinator-friendly plants into your garden. A few years back Penn State did a pollinator trial on which wildlflowers were most visited by pollinators and by insects in general. Here’s the link to Bees, Bugs, and Blooms where you can look at tables and figures.

Towards the top of most of their lists are the mountain mints (Pycnanthemum), goldenrods (Solidago), Joe Pye weeds (Eutrochium), and milkweeds (Asclepias). Above you see mountain mint, which as anyone who has planted it knows, literally buzzes with activity this time of year. Also above there’s Joe Pye weed and one of the perennial sunflowers, and a milkweed peeking out here and there. My goldenrods are not blooming yet, so not in the photo. I have a big yard which I allow to grow on the wilder side; you can also have a neater & tidier pollinator garden if you prefer.

I’ve put just the genus name above (in italics); you can look further at the lists to find out which ones performed best. If you’re just starting out with planting for pollinators, any natives in these genera (plural for genus) listed above is probably good.

Figure 1 shows phenology, or the time of year the plants bloom and are therefore useful to their pollinator visitors. It’s important to start to think about planting wildflowers that will bloom throughout the season, from April through October, or even longer, so that pollinators have food throughout the season.

Watermark Woods has most of these plants available, and is usually open Wednesday through Saturday mornings (check the link to be sure). Loudoun Wildlife’s Fall Native Plant Sale, where Watermark Woods and two other reputable vendors will have plants to sell, is coming up Sept. 9 and is held at Morven Park in Leesburg.  Staff and volunteers can help you pick out plants that suit your needs.

Another good resource for planting for pollinators: Using Native Plants To Attract Butterflies, Moths, Bees, and other Pollinators in the Washington, D.C. Area

Check back soon for more posts and links on topics we covered recently in class.

Fun with Soil

Jennifer sent these cool photos of her “jar test” of soil on her property:

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She found that the one on the left came out as loam, and the  Untitled
one on the right as sandy loam on the soil texture triangle.
However, she was less sure of the one on the right as it was harder to read.