Working on a 1/4 acre meadow project developed by Weatherwood Design in Hunterdon County, we used a new technique for us to treat existing vegetation due to the sensitive nature of the site and its’ proximity to a first order stream. As with any meadow seeding, pre-existing vegetation has to be accounted for, identifying and protecting patches of desired species while eliminating undesirable ones. That can be achieved in many ways, most commonly and especially with larger projects, by using the most benign yet effective herbicide in a very controlled manner. Anticipating a fall seeding, efforts were taken to eradicate existing vegetation, which included stiltgrass, multiflora rose and cool season grasses. After mechanical removal of roses and other unwanted woodys, the entire project area was scalped and covered with black plastic. It’s the first time we’ve employed this particular method and we do have some reservations about using such a large amount of plastic. For one, it’s still an oil-based product so we’re certainly not utilizing an environmentally friendly product. Secondly, we’ll have to dispose of it in a landfill as UV degradation will most likely not allow us to reuse it. Thirdly, with limited to no gas exchange (perhaps only at some of the seams where overlap occurs) and no water infiltration, we’re concerned with the overall biological health of the soil during the period of coverage. Keep in mind that the plastic was used in this instance as an alternative to herbicide use as the project site possesses wetlands and serves as sensitive habitat to which we definitely wanted to minimize our impact.
The black plastic in action…
Other viable alternatives to using the plastic are
Before the initial preliminary mowing of the intended meadow area, we like to flush out the existing wildlife, walking back and forth across the field to send the more mobile wildlife scurrying to safety. The slower guys, like toads and box turtles, are assisted out beyond the perimeter. Some really neat critters call these woods home, including a species of Gray Treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis, which we encountered in the back woods. We also encountered a few little Wood Frogs, Rana sylvatica, hopping about the site. The amphibians in particular are a good indicator of the health of the ecosystem. A conventional herbicide preparation for this meadow would probably not have fared well for these guys. We are hoping the solarizing technique will prove to be a minimal impact in exchange for increased long term species diversity and overall system health.
In addition to prepping for the meadow, additional multiflora rose was mechanically removed in hopes of allowing continued establishment and proliferation of our native spicebush, Lindera benzoin, as the dominant understory.
More to come as the meadow progresses!