Making a Plan—Learning and Caring for Your Woods Through the Year

Posted: January 21, 2016

This relatively quiet time of the year is also perfect to plan for woodland activities that can be done in spring, summer, and fall.

In nature, winter is a time of pause and slowing down of many animal and plant life cycles. With the arrival of colder weather and the bustle of the holidays now behind us, we may be thinking of our own “hibernation.” On the other hand, many of us are also happily paging through seed catalogs, planning our vegetable and flower gardens, or thinking of other projects for the new year. This relatively quiet time of the year is also perfect to plan for woodland activities that can be done in spring, summer, and fall.

Developing a schedule for woodland stewardship (or tree care, if you have a small wooded area in your yard) can benefit you and your woodland in several ways. Breaking a project into individual steps can help the work feel less overwhelming. Taking time to plan a schedule for the year also ensures that activities are done when they will yield the best results for your trees and other plants.

There is no one-size-fits-all schedule for woodland stewardship--what goes into your calendar depends on your goals for the land and conditions in your woods. If you haven’t written out your goals and objectives, make this your first “to-do” for the year’s calendar. This task can be simplified by asking and answering a few questions. What do you enjoy or value about your woods? How do you use your woods now? What are your hopes for using and enjoying your woodland in the future? Answering these questions will help you get started in reaching your objectives—for example, managing for particular wildlife species, growing non-timber forest products, or gathering firewood.

While it may not feel like work, walking in your woods throughout the year is an important “to-do” to add to your calendar. This will help you get to know the lay of the land and to observe and better understand what is happening. Even if you are very familiar with your woods, regular walks help keep track of projects you started or unexpected occurrences like a tree falling across a trail or fence. Bring a small notebook and a camera to describe and document what you see. You can also record possible actions and your questions as you explore.

Begin your year with a woods walk. It is an ideal time for checking fence lines and property boundaries, and for noticing features or special places (e.g., rock outcroppings, old home sites) that are hidden when the trees and shrubs have leaves. Including such places in your description of your woodland can help in planning future work activities or enjoyment. The winter timing also gives a different perspective on woodland conditions. How would you describe the vertical and horizontal arrangement of trees and other woody plants throughout the woods? Are there areas that seem to be all shrubs and no trees? Are there trees densely covered with vines? Make note of areas like these, as they may indicate spots where you may have a need to control competitive plants. If you are able to identify the shrubs or vines as invasive species, you can use the winter to learn about best strategies to control each species you find on your property.

Creating or improving wildlife habitat may be one of your objectives for your land. A variety of related activities can be added to your calendar. For example, tree cavities are important habitat for a variety of wildlife species including many birds and mammals. A walk in the fall or winter will make it easier to see how many trees have suitable habitat. Note snags (standing dead trees) and trees with dead, hollowed branches. To improve habitat for other types of wildlife, build brush piles from invasive shrubs. Cut the shrubs in July or late summer to avoid disturbing birds as they nest. Scheduling this work for the summer also helps reduce the spread of invasive shrubs like honeysuckle, since the seed-bearing fruits are not fully formed yet. A summer/fall activity relating to wildlife habitat you might add to the calendar is recording the types and numbers of native fruit and nut-bearing trees and shrubs you have (e.g., oaks, hickories, elderberry). If not many are found in your woodland, you might plan a tree or shrub planting for the spring. The Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Howard Nursery currently has their seedling order information available. You can also check with your local county conservation district to see if seedling sales are going on in your area.

One value and intention you may share with other landowners is the desire to see your family or others close to you care for the woods as you do. In thinking of your woodland calendar, you can help build that legacy of enjoying and caring for the woods together by scheduling time to share your woodland experiences. Maybe a reunion is planned; go for a walk together as part of the event. Show your family your favorite spots in the woods. Ask them about theirs. Tell them about woodland activities you have planned and see if there are opportunities for them to take part. Maybe you have thought about how to pass on your land to family, or to someone other than a family member. Schedule a time to walk and talk about your hopes for the land, and listen to what hopes others might have. Develop a “woods mission” that you all support. If you have already begun that conversation, perhaps an activity for your woodland calendar is a talk with a land trust, or a financial planner, or a lawyer to help you understand your options for protecting your woodland and your legacy of caring for it.

No matter how long you have owned woodland and no matter how many trees you are caring for, you will benefit greatly from making a yearly plan. Your woodland calendar should have time for exploratory walks, making lists of things to learn and to do, specific projects to meet your objectives for improving habitat and forest health, and time for others to learn how you care for the woods and its future. Scheduling time in the woods this year will provide benefits to you personally and to your fellow Pennsylvanians who depend on healthy forests for clean water and for the natural beauty they provide in our lives.

Contact Information

Leslie Horner
  • Forest Stewardship Program Associate
Phone: 814-867-5982