cut the big trees, save the small ones in understory?

joeschmoe80(6 (Ohio))March 20, 2014

I've been looking at land (mostly in the 5-20 acre range) in eastern and southeastern Ohio recently. I saw a nice piece of land the other day that is totally wooded. If I ever were to decide to buy land like that, I probably would want to clear a decent amount of it so I could grow other things within it.

Most people would clear all the understory, and leave some of the larger trees.

What if, instead, you wanted to cut the large trees (say, for lumber), and leave part of the understory to be released?

The land in question is between Newark and Zanesville, Ohio - the overstory is has some openings, but also quite a few nice, straight, timber quality oaks and hickories on the land. The understory has some nice sugar maple and white oak throughout, 1-3" caliper in many cases, that look healthy enough (no leaves yet, but healthy looking buds/bark, so I'm assuming) but are just waiting for "release" to really take off.

What would be the best way to harvest the marketable lumber, clear out all the non-valuable overstory and all the "brush" but leave those selected small trees in such a way that they're in minimal danger of being crushed by their falling parents, as well as minimizing root damage from equipment?

The idea here is, for me, I don't want dense woods, but an open woodland of small trees that I could then plant REAL understory plants in now (like dogwoods, redbuds, azalea, hosta, etc) to grow up with the oaks and maples that will eventually get quite large.

Are there lumber companies that can do this? I've heard of some "mulcher" type machines that basically grind everything to the ground and leave a wood chip "mulch" behind, that's supposed to be less destructive than old-school methods...anyone got ideas?

This is only a brainstorm so far.

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I would not do any thing for at least one year so you can learn exactly what you have on the property. You mentioned Redbud and dogwood. Being where you are you may already have these trees and many other worthwhile trees on the property.

As for clearing, you can do a lot on a Saturday afternoon to clear a wooded area loppers, a hatchet, etc.

It you really have thick thickets, a trimmer with a blade, can do wonders in a short time.

Also It is a woods, I would not be very picky about getting the stuff you cut off, picked up. Just make sure it is in small enough lengths so it does not stick up.

Remember it is nearly as much work keeping a woods looking "natural" as maintaining a landscaped front yard

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 11:10AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i would suggest that you have a real estate person take you to a property that has already been cleared ...

then you can see the impact ... and you can buy what you see ...

as far as i know.. very superficial ... it is my understanding there has to be a significant amount of trees to make it profitable for the lumber man .... and no matter what you think.. it is not a dainty operation ....

i am concerned you might be horrified by the result .... and underwhelmed by the profit ... so why take on that risk ... buy what you can see ... besides... you might get a bargain based on such ....


    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 12:41PM
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Most of the problems in the US forests have to do with clear cutting. Large trees take decades to get a decent height, some of the ones there might be rare.

If you are interested then extend the edge of the forest as you see fit. Clearing some gaps would be beneficial, especially if you find some young trees of interest and you want the to get some light.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 12:57PM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

Lets see a crashing down large heavy tree on understory growth you would release for faster growth. Then get said large heavy trees out of the forested area through all those smaller trees (and any larger ones you may decide to keep). All with heavy equipment (run by people who are hardly "careful" and perhaps not so skilled) that is required to handle the large heavy shapes (tree trunks), compacting the soil, and running over the young trees you want to release. Oh, and you are going to trust people who's job is to take out large trees to be careful of younger regrowth that is in the way of getting their money makers out.

Sorry, but I just don't see it working out the way you would like. Have seen this tried in this area, and what is left behind is simply awful.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 2:52PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

I've seen this done by state highway crews when the entire woods is new growth of small caliper - they go in and yank out the weed trees (Pyrus calleryana, buckthorns, Ulmus pumila) and leave some oaks, etc...but Ark is right - this is a very difficult thing to do in the way you say.

You could probably clear out a lot of the brush yourself, and just leave the trees and shrubs, then work with what's left.

Ken made a good point too - you may not like the result.

How big of a lot is this?

This post was edited by hairmetal4ever on Thu, Mar 20, 14 at 15:37

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 3:36PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Here's an idea as well -

I generally hate clearcutting, BUT:

If you have the lot clear-cut, you'll get a LOT of stump sprouts. Smaller trees (1-3" caliper) sprout best, and are most likely to be able to heal over in such a way as to make "normal" trees again. A huge stump may resprout, but it may or may not be stable as rot can set in, and those large wounds never really heal or compartmentalize.

However, even these small oak and maple saplings probably have extensive root systems. Those stump sprouts can grow FAST. Faster than a seedling.

You *could*, if you wanted to take a bit more initial risk, just clear cut it all, and regrow some stump sprouts from smaller stumps, pick the best ones, then slowly work out the remaining stumps over time.

However, before cutting anything I'd still wait until things leaf out to see what you really have.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 3:41PM
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Same here hairmetal...

Most of the area is secondary growth due to clear cuts. Not to mention that clear cutting gives the exact site requirements for many if not all invasive species (like aformentioned callary pear, siberian elm and bucthorns), it also eliminates any trees that are concidered long term overstory trees, like oak, maples, many nuts and others. You probably wouldnt even see half of them until it was too late.

Many of the species we want are at the middle or end of succession. Cutting down the tall trees sets back succession, not much different from a moderate to severe fire. The same can be said for clearing the undergrowth.

The best thing to do, and i will say its quite time intensive, is to go through the lot you end up with and inventory every tree and plant you possibly can. You will have no idea whether it is desierable to cut, plant or augment the existing forest if you dont know what you have. Then you can start to identify plants that you wish to give more light by cutting some branches and ground cover. IF there is an area where it has a good gap but nothing desierable, then is a good time to plant what you want. Also a good idea to keep an eye for dying trees so you can plant what you wish before it falls or you cut it.

Clear cutting generally does way more harm then good. So is going in and ripping out invasive species. You just create the conditions for these types of plants to grow creating more work. Mind you there are lots of species which can use a perscribed burn to germinate or really start to grow. The least I can say is that it is anything as simple as cutting the large trees or undergrowth.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 3:52PM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

For your stated purposes, you would be better off as far as releasing younger trees goes, to selectively girdle select trees a few at a time to open specific openings in the canopy. Leaving these girdled trees standing where they are to enhance protection form weather conditions, serve as wildlife habitat, and return nutrients to the soil, and supporting soil ecology which benefits the remaining plants. Of course if your real motives are for profit, then this is not applicable.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 4:08PM
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joeschmoe80(6 (Ohio))

Thanks for all the replies!

Arktrees - it would be nice to make a few bucks, but it really isn't the goal. Girdling can work, but I'd find all those huge, dead trees unattractive until other growth comes up around them. It would look like the Twilight Zone!

Won't girdled trees resprout from below the girdle like a stump will? How could I stop that?

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 4:55PM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

Some might, but most larger oaks and hickories probable will not. You might remove limbs of the dead trees to help you deal with the look, so that it's more just trunks with short branches. FWIW, I would think you would want to girdle at most 10%, wait a couple years, then move on to another 10% etc. You could end up with mixed sizes then, and it would look better that way IMHO. Still that's my taste, and that certainly is not universal.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 7:37PM
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Best advice so with the land for a year before making decisions.

Let's treat Mother Nature with some integrity and expertise! She has devoted many years to developing this ecosystem under discussion.

Make a phone call to the Zanesville County Extension Service at 740-454-0144 and request the name of the USDA forester assigned to the area. Contact that person. Make arrangements for an evaluation of and suggestions re the wooded property. Expect good ideas, estimates of board feet if timbered, etc.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 9:32AM
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That's my neck of the woods, only I lay a tad more S.E. There are no shortages of timbering crews here and they advertise constantly in the local papers. You will get a set dollar offer after they evaluate what you have and whether it is something they want, and get it before the fact. They'll decide which ones they want, and whether they meet standards for lumber usage and they'll tell you what sizes they'll harvest and leave the rest. Having egress into the woodlot is important and you'll want to get references from people who have used them before as to how they left the land and lived up to their contracts. Be aware there are government programs that pay you to leave acreage in timber. The extension agency you'll want to contact to discuss the feasibility of your initial ideas would be either Licking or Muskingum county. There is also the soil and water conservancy and several other sources where you might get some good suggestions. I'm not even sure if you'd get any bites for a small lot like five acres.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 6:45PM
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Short of using a huge helicopter or crane, you can't cut a big tree without smashing something.

However, there are loggers and timber harvesting companies that can minimize the damage.

It includes cutting in the right sequence, using horse-drawn log haulers instead of bulldozers, shredding the slash, and perhaps leaving a couple of big ones if they aren't easy to get out.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 6:57PM
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I went to school for forestry, and I worked for a couple of lumber companies. Seeing the results of logging operations is partly why I became a nurseryman.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 8:08PM
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