Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Winter Seeding

Our first snowstorm was brewing on top of an inch that had fallen two days prior. Although there was much to do, I paused to get out to the back swale, once wet, now dry, to scatter the seeds I had collected.

The roughly two acre swale, either artificially created by gravel mining just over the property line or an artifact of the terminal moraine on its northern flank, used to dry up each summer, enough so that tree species accustomed to periods of water logged soil could still grow to sixty or seventy feet tall. These trees have now died, the largest within the last three years, because of permanent inundation.

This year, another change had taken place -the swale dried down. The spring tree which drains the area continues to flow and a walk through the swale could still leave you suctioned to its wet bottom, but the hummocky surface is dry, the duckweed a gray mat. With that had come an incredible explosion of canary reed grass, the cool season, hybrid grass created for just this type of environment. In two short months the grass multiplied its square footage by ten and left little room for intervention by this woods gardener.

Canary reed grass or reed canary grass, Phalaris arundinacea, is terribly hard to remove -more so than garlic mustard, buckthorn, and creeping charlie combined -for its wet soil, its nearly impenetrable mat of fibrous roots, its rhizomes and seeds. Although developed for haying wet ground, wild animals do not care for it. Yet here, it is clipped, but I cannot recall whether I clipped it in preparation for some type of management or it has been grazed by deer this late autumn. If it was deer, that would be unusual.

I will not be able to remove the reed grass, nor do I intend to spray glyphosate on it. I've tried plastic tarps, but there are now too many woody obstructions over a region much too large for that. My plan is to seed this open area, ahead of the advancing grass, in hopes of some species gaining a foothold. Only if the pond does return, to its last maximum, will the open water push the mat of grass back to its edges.

If the pond does not return, this wet meadow may have a limited number of species capable of growing alongside canary reed grass. I've seeded blue vervain, Verbena hastata, common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, various asters and goldenrod, and a bit of big blustem. I had two dozen blue lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica, starts remaining from the late summer planting, roots still alive, that I dropped in the hummocks under the snow. And in late September I planted dozens of Spotted Joe Pye, Eutrochium maculatum, more blue lobelia, and several other species I cannot recall at the moment along the more shaded swale edges where the canary reed grass had yet to overtake.