It’s mid-October and the back yard is beginning to shape up. For purposes of comparison, here are a few pictures from July.
The picture below shows the back slope mostly cleared of buckthorn. As I mentioned before, we put up the fence years ago and paid no attention to what was going on back there — like weedy trees growing a mile a minute. The crab apple and apple trees are worth saving, but they’ll need some TLC in the upcoming years, which ideally will include cutting down the Siberian elm and white mulberry.
I’ll be planting a few bare root shrubs back there and sowing lots of native wildflower, grass, sedge, and shrub seeds.
The next picture shows the new view over the fence. From our living room window, we now have an unobstructed view of our back-yard neighbor’s house. Oh, well. Eventually we’ll have new, eco-friendly screening vegetation, including nannyberry viburnum, pagoda dogwood, and choke cherry.
The pictures above and below show the area outside the lawn oval now cleared of the patchy grass that used to grow there. Paths have been laid out and planting holes have been pre-dug and rabbit barriers made in preparation for the arrival of bare root shrubs.
We’ve come a long way in five months. Now we just have to get things in the ground and wait for them to grow!
We put up the fence in our backyard 17 or 18 years ago, when our two oldest kids were little and the other two hadn’t come along yet. Our property extends to the bottom of the slope behind the fence, but since the fence went up I’ve mostly ignored the horticultural goings-on back there.
So, there’s this plant called buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica, an ecological threat in Minnesota and much of the rest of the midwest. You may have heard of it. I’d certainly heard of buckthorn, too, but most of what I heard mentioned its invasiveness in natural areas. I don’t usually think of my suburban yard as a natural area, so I didn’t pay much attention.
Fast-forward through several clueless, happy years to 2016, when I realized that all of those little seedlings I was weeding out of my flower beds were buckthorn. Where were they coming from? Probably from the 15-foot-high buckthorn thicket that was steadily growing behind the fence.
About 80% of the lovely greenery visible behind the fence is buckthorn. Here’s what it looks like up close:
If there was ever any sort of vegetative ground layer, it’s gone for now. I’ve spent some time over the past few days beginning to cut back this thicket. I’m using this method (scroll down to the subsection entitled “Light weapons and a long timeline”). I already had Trimec in the shed. I ordered the blue dye and sponge applicator bottle from Amazon.
Treated buckthorn stumps (the dye faded quite a bit in last night’s rain):
Here’s my brush pile so far (plus more waiting to be retrieved from behind the fence):
It’s a big chore, but I’m looking forward to seeing what shows up (besides lots more buckthorn seedlings) once some dappled sunlight can reach the ground again. [Edit 10/19/17: Did I say “dappled shade”? Now that the buckthorn is gone, it’s a sunny south-facing slope!] I’ll probably also toss some native savanna/woodland seeds back there to help things along. I’ll post an update or two down the road.
When we moved into our house in 1998, there was an old metal swing set in the back yard that was too rickety and dangerous to keep. The sandbox, however, got lots of use.
By the time this picture was taken (around 2008), we had put up the fence and installed planting beds all along the east side of the property.
Now that the kids are older, we took out the sandbox and expanded the planting bed along the back property line. Unfortunately, this is what it looks like right now.
It’s nicely filled in over to the left, although the whole yard is in need of more shrubs and structure in general. I scattered some wildflower seeds last fall in the section from the middle to the right, but not much has come up (yet). The tree on the right side of the picture is an Amur maple, an ecological threat according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR – Amur maple). Ours had been dying out in the middle for a while, so cutting it down is an easy choice. We plan to leave about 10 feet as a snag.
We cut off only a few branches with the pole saw, then made more progress with a reciprocating saw with a 12″ pruning blade. We’ll be borrowing a chain saw for the rest. It’s a bigger tree than I thought when we started! (There’s another one behind the fence, too. Yippee.)
We had installed part of a planned mowing strip by the raised beds on the east side of the yard last summer. This summer we’re planning to finish an oval to contain what will remain of the lawn in the back yard.
Trenching and lopping …
Eventually the west side of the back yard will contain paths and plantings instead of turfgrass and bare dirt. (There used to be a swing hanging from the locust.)
I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen back here, but I’m thinking of native shrubs (nannyberry, chokeberry, pagoda dogwood, etc.) and lots of woodland/savanna plants. I’ll let you know how things are coming along in a future post!