My woods aren’t much different than my garden. When I want to grow as many tomatoes as possible, I make sure my tomato plants have plenty of sunlight, water, and nutrients. I do this by pulling the weeds that compete with them. My woods work the same way. When I want to grow trees that provide food for wildlife in the form of nuts and seeds, I also make sure they have plenty of sunlight, water, and nutrients. That means being willing to “pull” some weed trees. The big difference is that instead of pulling them out by hand, I cut them down with a chainsaw.
What makes a “weed” tree? It may be sick or damaged. It might be a type of tree that provides little food for wildlife. Or it could just be in the wrong place at the wrong time, like beside a large, healthy tree that does provide wildlife food.
Regardless of the reason, these trees are competing with the trees I want to grow and thrive. My desired trees get less sunlight, water, and nutrients than they could because they’re crowded by the trees I don’t want.
Much like my garden, the large, healthy trees are the ones I want to keep. They’re my crop. That’s why in forestry, they’re known as crop trees.
There are a lot of words foresters and loggers use to describe weeding a woodlot – thinning, timber stand improvement, tending treatments. They all have the same goal: to focus sunlight, water, and nutrients on the crop trees so they can grow larger and healthier.
This may sound like a human trying to control nature, but weeding my woods actually mimics nature. As trees grow, small trees die as bigger ones shade them out. It’s the way nature works. When my woods were young I had tens of thousands of seedling trees per acre. Now that my woods are approaching middle age the number is down to hundreds of trees per acre, without any effort on my part.
The big difference with thinning is that when I weed my woods, I choose which trees I want to help and when to help them instead of letting it up to nature. This way I get what I want out of my woods – more food for wildlife.
There are a lot of reasons for weeding my woods. Increasing food for wildlife, nest habitat for birds, or timber to sell are a few. Careful weeding can even help speed my woods’ transition to that cherished and extremely rare type of woods: old growth.
Regardless of your reasons, cutting trees is a tool that can help you get more out of your woods. Done carefully and with forethought, it’s a lot like weeding your garden. But instead of a few summer months, your well-tended tree garden can last for centuries.