Dying Oal Copse

Asked May 1, 2018, 1:45 PM EDT

I have about 3.5 acres of aging oak in the Ashton area. I am pretty sure that my subdivision is old enough that I can cut and/or harvest the trees. The forest appears to be in its end stages. Older trees are dying and coming down on their own, and there are no new trees because of the deer. My wife and I would like to do the following: 1. Clear the dead, dying and scrub trees. I'm guessing that this will leave about 30 to 50 with 20+ years in them (I have no expertise in this area - just guessing). 2. Pull the stumps, clear all debris. grade between the remaining trees, add topsoil as needed and plant with some semi-attractive ground cover that will not require fertilizer (i.e. protect the Chesapeake). I am hoping your office can point me to people who can assist with the following: A. Verify that the trees can be removed without legal liability. B. Help to make a work plan and critical path, if needed. c. Refer us to the competent contractors. D. If the wood has value advise on its sale. Alternatively, if someone can look at our little forest, and suggest an economical way to save it, we would consider that. Thanks

Montgomery County Maryland

1 Response

You do not need to save your forest. A forest is the natural "end stage" of land on the East Coast of the North American continent. It it normal for a mature forest to lose some trees--as the trees get bigger they need more moisture and sunlight and some are outcompeted and die. This is natural.The fallen trees decompose and feed the remaining trees.

It sounds like you would like to turn your forest into an ornamental landscape that is an extension of your landscape. This is a huge difficult task.

Please be aware that removing downed, dead and "scrub trees" will greatly reduce the environmental value of that woods to wildlife. (Not sure what you mean by "scrub tree"--dogwoods and spice bush are highly desirable understory plants, for instance, and should be spared.)

Before you remove anything, be sure you id all the plants. Once removed, it can be extremely difficult to replace them with anything satisfactory.

We don't see any purpose in removing stumps--expensive to do and they will decompose on their own.

Not sure what you mean by debris--fallen leaves? Dead twigs? These provide a natural mulch--preventing weeds and, as they decompose, feeding the trees. If you remove this layer, you will have bare soil that will almost instantly be invaded by weeds and non-native invasive plants. Unfortunately, these days it's not like the past when native plants would fill in bare soil. Nowadays, foreign invasive like stiltgrass, wavyleaf basket grass, barberry, and bittersweet, and mile-a-minute vines usually beat natives to the punch. Then you have a massive ugly weed lot.Deer do not eat these invasive plants, so they just eat more of the desirable native plants.

To plant this area with attractive groundcovers would be a monumental and expensive effort. It would have to be done immediately after clearing the lands to beat out the invasive plants. Few groundcovers grow in forests. There is too much competition from the tree roots for moisture and nutrients, and too much shade. Hay-scented fern will grow and spread in those conditions. Mayapple will form patches. Both will need watering to get established.

We recommend that you contact your county forester for help if you want to harvest timber. The county will also tell you if you can remove trees in a protected area.

Here is a helpful publication from the MD State Forest Service: http://dnr.maryland.gov/forests/Documents/publications/Welcome_to_Woods_v9.pdf

Your concern about deer eating the "future" forest --all the tree seedlings--needed to replace dead trees is a very valid. This is an urgent problem. Consider placing tree guards of some design on at least some of the seedlings in your forest to ensure forest regeneration.