Beginner's guide to ‘woodscaping’

Paul McKenzie, N.C. Cooperative Extension
Oct. 26, 2013 @ 10:49 PM

For as long as I remember, I’ve enjoyed time amongst the trees of the forest. There were the family camping trips of childhood, the Boy Scout backpacking trips in my youth and countless trips over the decades to our treasured State Parks. Now my wife and I own a small patch of timber that provides entry into the woodland realm at a moments notice.

Over the years we have made small improvements to the property. We’ve added a footpath here, cleared an interesting rock formation there, and removed weeds from a patch of wildflowers by the stream. These improvements have enhanced the beauty of the landscape and our enjoyment of the property. You might call it landscaping the woods, or even better, “woodscaping”.

Perhaps you own a patch of trees as well. And whether it consists of the “natural area” on your half-acre home lot, or many acres of productive timber, applying the concept of woodscaping can add pleasure to your time outdoors.

How do you begin? The key is to accentuate and enhance the natural elements already present. You might start with an inventory of notable features such as major trees, patches of ferns, large boulders, expanses of moss, or remains of old structures.

Other valuable components in your woodscape include understory trees like dogwood and redbud, native flowers and even downed trees, which provide habitat for salamanders and other small critters. Dead standing trees (also known as snags) make excellent homes for woodpeckers and other birds (but take these down if there is any possible risk of property damage or injury).

Noting the location of these features on a hand-drawn map or aerial photograph can help you see the big picture. When it’s time to create footpaths, the map will show you the best way to “connect the dots.”

Woodscaping, of course, takes some time and effort. Let’s talk about tools and techniques.

First, winter is an excellent time to begin establishing the framework. This includes identifying key features, establishing footpaths and clearing out limbs and underbrush. Ticks and chiggers are less active, and the poison ivy has lost its leaves (but still avoid contact with the woody vines!). Once spring arrives, use brush killer sprays and hand pruning to manage brush and vines.

Also through the first spring and summer, note the location of any wildflowers. Either record these on your map, or place a marking flag. This will help you avoid spraying them, as once they stop blooming you may mistake them for a weed.

Another potential enhancement would be the addition of native wildflowers or shrubs. While I have no qualms about the use of exotic plants in my garden, I prefer to keep it natural in the Finally, most wooded areas are overstocked. Just like when you sow too many radish seeds in the garden, your woodland will benefit from removing weak trees to give more room for the strong ones. This has the added benefit of opening vistas through the woods and increasing opportunities to see wildlife.

Yes, woodscaping requires some sweat equity, but a peaceful stroll through the trees makes it all worthwhile.