5 Steps to Restore Your Understory

Perhaps you want more from your property than an occasional venison stew. Maybe you would like to improve your oil productivity, graze livestock, grow food or produce other secondary forest products.

Restoring your native understory can help you meet your objectives, and the more diverse the species mix, the more improvements in productivity you are likely to see.

STEP 1: Create a plan

Conduct a site evaluation that includes soils, topography, slope, drainage and a census of present plants. Landowner’s goals and objectives should be clearly defined.

STEP 2: Make the site suitable for desired understory

Thin existing timber stands, control non-native, invasive plants; reduce grazing and trampling until plants can tolerate them, or add a fire regimen (prescribed burning takes many years and many fires before seeing total results)

STEP 3: Complete a follow-up census

Take inventory on the plants you have and then make a list of what you want to introduce. Use your site objectives and historic species composition to determine desired species. EXAMPLE: Lupines are efficient nitrogen fixers and quickly build soil, but they can also kill a horse. If grazing horses is your goal, lupines would be a bad choice.

STEP 4: Think practical

The best man-made systems are diverse, have multiple plants serving the same function to create redundancy and use native species. All of these practices make the system more resilient. A landowner should make an effort to source native seeds locally to keep the site as natural as possible.

STEP 5: Get to work

With a plan in place, it’s time to follow through. Restoring a diverse native understory takes time.  No-till strategies and mulching techniques use the same principles by restoring soil ecology and nutrient cycling.

Talk to your local NRCS office for technical and financial assistance relation to the restoration of native understory, and for access to a native warm season grass drill.

FYI: Compared to annual plants, perennials are much better at surviving drought, recovering from fires and sequestering carbon into the soil. Native grasslands are the best habitat for many of our native wildlife species.

Diverse cover crop mixes are more drought-tolerant and more productive than one cover crop

No-till improves productivity by restoring soil ecology and nutrient cycling. It also slows the loss of soil organic matter and moisture, requiring less herbicides, pesticides and fungicides.
Mulch acts like leaf litter, shading the soil and reducing the soil temperature, therefore improving growing conditions for plant roots. It also reduces water loss from evaporation

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