In suburban Dallas, having a wooded lot is about as common as having a moat in your yard. And if you are lucky enough to have a lot of trees, you pay a premium for them. Hence, we never really had trees, let alone woods. So when we moved to Minnesota, we knew we wanted to buy a house surrounded by lots of trees. That was definitely one of the must haves on our list.

If you've noticed the photos I take with my phone, it is apparent that I enjoy my back yard quite a bit. See Exhibits A, B, C and D.

We are very thankful for the lot we found and for the peaceful retreat of our backyard. Well, sometimes its peaceful. Other times it represents a monumental amount of work. You see, when we bought this house, it was still winter. There was about 2 feet of snow covering everything. So we really didn't know the details of what we were getting. All I knew was I could see a lot of trees out back and that was about it. Then the snow melted and leaves began to emerge. Then we realized we had a jungle.

The Jungle

I'll never forget one the conversation I had with my neighbor standing at the fence line between our houses:

Neighbor: "You know that's all Buckthorn, don't ya?" Me: "Uh, no. Buck what?" Neighbor: "Yeah, Buckthorn. All that green stuff you have is Buckthorn." Me: "Okay."

How do you intelligently respond to that? No idea. So, I did some googling. So it turns out that Buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica, is an invasive plant species brought to Minnesota back in the 1800's from Europe. It was introduced as a very popular hedging material. It wasn't until about the 1930's that they realized it was such a problem. Basically, it out-competes native plants for nutrients, light, and moisture and forms an impenetrable layer of vegetation if left unattended.


In a nutshell, a big nightmare. So my "wooded lot" is filled with thousands of buckthorn "trees" ranging in size from about a foot tall to ones that seem like small trees - about 12 feet tall. The vast majority of them are about 3 feet tall with stems about the thickness of a pencil. The larger tree-types have to be cut down, but I have found the best way to get rid of most of them is to just rip them out of the ground. Fortunately, they have very weak root systems and can easily be removed, just like pulling weeds (big weeds).

I spent the majority of last summer clearing the buckthorn. I have a long way to go still, but it looks vastly improved from when I started. As I started clearing, I realized that once all the buckthorn is gone, there isn't much else besides really tall Amur Maple, Elm and Box Elder trees.

My background in horticulture and landscape design probably has me obsessing over this type of thing more than the average person, I admit that, but I do have a strategy. In addition to clearing the buckthorn, you have to replace it with something else, or else it can just take over again if neglected.

To that end, a couple of weeks ago I purchased 150 plants from the County Soil and Water Conservation program. I was very excited to come home with a bag full of tree and shrub seedlings. I bought 25 of each of these:

  • White Spruce
  • Norway Pine
  • Sugar Maple
  • Red Twig Dogwood
  • Highbush Cranberry
  • Black Chokeberry

Seedlings: Pine, Spruce and Dogwood

I've already planted the evergreens (spruce and pine) and am waiting for a day when its not raining (and I'm not at work) to plant the rest of them. Planting 150 trees takes awhile!

White Spruce

Norway Pine

It seems ridiculous to add 150 more trees/shrubs to an already wooded lot. But I'm a big fan of native plants and I also see the need for diversification. Adding some evergreen trees to the environment out there is a no brainer. And the Dogwood, Cranberry and Chokeberry will provide understory foliage, flowers, berries and ornamental interest.