Grizzly (and deer) protection for the garden

As I spend increasingly more time in my garden, driven in part by dissatisfactions with other areas of my life as I approach middle age, I rack up quite a list of ideas. On some days, they spill over and surround me with their chatter for attention, and if they are good enough, they stay with me. I write much but draw little,  a misfortune for me as my designs remain largely in my head and are therefore often experimental, and implemented through seat-of-the-pants methods.  Other ideas of lesser magnitude or lacking in spatial coordinates may dissipate before I can reach a sheet of paper.Therefore, I set forth this list, which came to me as I raked alder leaves yesterday in the rain, for later benefit:

Eight Landscape Maintenance Ideas I’ve Learned Through the Years

1. Leaves make great mulch – alder and maple on this property in particular. It is well worth the effort to rake under wild trees as the leaves provide both nutrients in the form of N and C as well as soil texture and weed control.  I still need to do research on the nitrogen (N) content of red alder (Alnus rubra) leaves. I have read that the soil around alders, which fix nitrogen just like legumes, have locally high N levels that will benefit the plants that grow there. This is something to consider as I plan interplantings along the edge of the native forest.

2. Himalayan blackberries can be controlled organically – It is not necessary to hire workers or spray the heck out of blackberries. The trend towards using herbicides, however fast they may breakdown, to solve problems disturbs me deeply. I have 20 acres of blackberries and I derive considerable mental relaxation and physical conditioning from their removal. In large swaths, I use a machete. In places where they are mixed with desirable plants, I use clippers. In winter, even the larger blackberries can be pulled. I’ve been doing that quite a bit lately. The ground here gets so sodden just about anything pulls up easily. Blackberry roots have a large nodule that forms just below the ground; if nothing else, clip this free. I don’t yet know if the remaining roots will resprout, but removing the storage organ will set it back a while. In this manner, I have cleared many large areas of blackberries enough so that light annual maintenance is all that is required to prevent thickets from forming.

3. Get to know the ground – while I’m rooting about in the bushes killing blackberries, I have also found invasives creeping in – English ivy, Scots broom, and reed canary grass in particular – and have made mental notes of their locations for future eradication. I’ve also found a myriad of curious mushrooms and colorful liverworts with orange tips.  I take inventory of the plants that I see and where they grow, and have noticed a distinct lack of herbaceous diversity.  I use my observations to develop ways to reintroduce native groundcover to areas smothered by years of unmanaged overstory.  It pays to walk every tangled inch of property to know what is there.

4. The benefits of stick piles – As I trim trees and pick up fallen branches, I typically leave them in piles ranging from 1′ to 4′ high. Usually I’ll cut large branches into 3′ sections. If left long enough, the woods will reclaim the piles as trumpet vine, grass, and other creepers take over. The finer materials will rot, and small birds and rodents may enjoy the cover.  Later, I’ll burn the pile, liberating nutrients as ash, which can be left in place or put on the garden where the annuals prefer alkaline soil. I used to pick up piles and move them to a central location to burn as my father once did, but increasingly I’m tending to leave the piles in place, putting them out in the open to avoid torching the canopy.  It saves time and provides local soil conditioning.  However, keeping in mind the issues of carbon release and global warming, I also recommend leaving some piles in place back in the shrubbery where they are not visually unappealing in the more cultivated areas. I’ll also leaving rotting limbs on the ground out of sight, or cut up smaller materials and throw them into the forest to decay. I have decided after much consideration that I want to manage the woods closer to the living spaces for visual appeal with few downed branches and trees, but also maintain a natural forest floor with rotting material that will nuture the soil and provide habitat for smaller animals and microorganisms.  Despite the appearance of many managed landscapes I’ve seen, a clean forest floor is not sustainable.

5. Plant to emulate nature  – Use multistory plantings. Avoid long runs of nothing but bark with a few plants stuck in here and there. Even highly educated people tend to view this as appealing, but it is unnatural and unsustainable. My barked areas eventually teem with plants that cover the ground and reach into vertically and horizontally into the intermediate spaces above the ground. In other areas, I thin out the overstory of old-growth huckleberry and salal and plant underneath to soften and color the edges of the natural forest.  Groundcover – understory – canopy; no matter the scale, using this as a baseline will generally yield appealing results, maximize habitat potential, and benefit the soil while sparing a lot of maintenance. Except for the highly cultured look, most western-style landscapes are riffs on this theme.

6. Rotting logs make good planters – Red huckleberry and licorice fern in particular. If properly placed, they are visually appealing and provide a natural container garden.

7. Madrone logs are just too good to waste – I’m still trying to figure out how to preserve the red bark, which eventually turns black and peels off.  The branches make great pea trellises and structural additions to pots. The trunks and larger branches can be sawed back to form the structure of a low fence. I’m planning one now with madrone branches for posts and sapling poles for rails.

8. Don’t worry about what the deer will and won’t eat – It doesn’t matter. There is little that they won’t eat at some time of the year if desperate enough. Even the fawns have to sample the supposedly unpalatable plants to learn otherwise. Plant what you want and protect it. Or consider the placement of deer trails and landscape accordingly. Here we have deer interstates that can either be avoided to some degree or blocked with fencing.  Unfortunately, I did not consider this when planning my garden at the top of the hill, which intersected a major deer trail. Everytime the fence is down, the deer get in and feast.

I’m not sure where this ongoing saga will lead me. My energy seems boundless, and my devotion deep. I continue to follow my heart and spend most of spare time here ploughing my way to whatever the end product will be. I see it in my mind, without drawings or plans. I’ll know when I reach the point where it looks the way I wish it to be, or at least I  hope it will. It may well turn out to be a never-ending process. Somewhere along the way though, I need to carve out a place where I can learn to just sit and enjoy it.








Managing a large landscape – thoughts for the coming year

Comments are closed.