One of the beautiful aspects of owning land is the ability to invigorate and promote new natural growth, improving the space for the surrounding community of wildlife that inhabits the area. Landowners are often looking for new and inventive ways to naturally support the ecosystem on their property, especially if these methods involve utilizing pre-existing resources and the word “free.”
The use of native plants in property restoration is no new practice, however, wildlife and conservation experts are always finding new uses for plants that were previously assumed to be useless. One such species is the eastern red cedar, an invasive species that outcompetes other native trees for space and sunlight on the forest floor.
Dr. Grant Woods of GrowingDeer TV advocated for the use of eastern red cedar in restoring native plant species to an area during his recent appearance on the National Land Podcast. Below are excerpts from this appearance that detail how Dr. Woods has incorporated this invasive species into his property management practices, as well as the incredible results he’s found!
(Mac Christian) You had a huge emphasis on native plants, they’re where I see a lot of concentration on safe food plots and everything for bringing in deer. But you put a big emphasis on [using] a diverse range of plants and not using monocultures. I was wondering if you could talk about that a little bit because I found that really interesting.
(Dr. Grant Woods) “At the Proving Grounds, the [previous owner] years ago had created pasture but then when the neighbor took over, everything grew up. So it was covered with eastern red cedar which is a very invasive species here in the Midwest. [To] put that in scale, Oklahoma estimates they lose about 700 acres a day to eastern red cedar and that’s just from one tree here, one tree there, another tree here. It’s really invasive and any open areas were covered with eastern red cedar.
So I started just felling cedars with the chainsaw and letting them lay there for a couple of years, and then burn them. We didn’t plant any of this native vegetation, the seed is in the soil. And fire is what released it, fire and sunshine. We removed the cedar so the sun and fire could reach the soil.
I started seeing these great results and I started doing it just simply to create some openings. And it wasn’t like ‘Well, I’m gonna restore these great native species in the soil.’ Through time, learning, and watching other fellow scientists working with me and visiting, we identified 176 different species of native grasses and forbs. That’s rainforest diversity.
And again, this is a process of years, not months, years. We started replicating that on other parts of my ranch and then figured out that if we burn it this month, we get these species to respond and if we burn it this month, these other species respond.
There is no one month for burning, we want to burn a different portion of the ranch during different months so we get a bigger diversity of plants, and the reasoning for a diversity of plants is some are more drought resistant, some will be higher in phosphorus, and some higher in calcium. If you have a really diverse blend of annual forbs, think broadleaf plants like ragweed or desmodium, which is a more popular plant that makes seeds that quail love, you’ll grow great deer.
And there’s a big range [dependent on] drought, variety, soil type, and body states. But native vegetation is going to produce on good sites about 1000 pounds per acre, again it’s a big range. But you can do 10 acres of native vegetation and have food and cover, and then your expenses are over except for occasionally burning it, which is really expensive every now and then, using prescribed fire.
My first step on most properties in this part of the world over to the East Coast is to get more sun to the forest floor. Everything starts with photosynthesis.
And so I’m going to probably kill some trees, but they’ve been mismanaged. And the lowest hanging fruit for me in this part of the world is where the cedars have taken these natural openings. So the first thing I’ll do is start felling cedars. Just simple, fell cedars with chainsaws. Cedars don’t require herbicide, if you fell a cedar below the bottom limb, it’s terminated and won’t sprout back. And these are eastern red cedars, the Northern people always get mad when I talk about cutting down cedars, but it’s because they have white cedars which are a highly preferred deer food.
These are eastern red cedars, deer don’t eat them unless they’re starving. I’ll fell cedars and let them lay for two years. And here’s some magic. If you burn them the first year, the stem will still have a lot of moisture, so you won’t get very good consumption and it looks kind of ugly. If you let them lay for two years, not only will those little needles be wicking moisture out of the stems, but these really valuable native plants that deer just love to eat or don’t make seed very frequently will grow up in those cedar skeletons where deer really can’t get to them.
So I fell cedars and leave them lay for two years to kind of guard the area for maximum browse pressure, so I get a really good seed crop and these new native species. Then drop a match and let a fire hatch in there, and what hatches is a very high-quality habitat.”