volunteers cutting down and burning hedgrerows along snow-covered fields

Winter work activity at Wisdom Prairie–removing hedgerows

Holy Wisdom MonasteryBenedictine Bridge, Care for the Earth, Friends of Wisdom Prairie Leave a Comment

by Friends of Wisdom Prairie Council Members Ron Endres and Will Mann

Winter is the ideal time of year to remove the hedgerows in and around Wisdom Prairie. Hedgerows (also called fencerows) are areas that previously separated sections of crop fields or are rough areas that were too hard to till. Weeds and invasive trees and shrubs grow in these areas and their seeds are easily spread into a nearby prairie, often completely overtaking it.

volunteers cutting down hedgrerows along snow-covered fields

Hedgerows at Holy Wisdom contain species like honeysuckle, buckthorn, box elder, wild grape vine and mulberry.  They shade the ground, thereby preventing grasses and ground layer species from growing. Plus they make it nearly impossible to control their spread with prescribed burns, as there is no fuel under the tree and shrub canopy to carry the fire. Because these are vigorous species and spread prolifically from seed, they should be removed before or at the same time a prairie is planted.

One of the purposes of restoring prairie at Holy Wisdom is to provide habitat for grassland birds.  The populations of grassland bird species in Wisconsin have declined significantly; more so than any other habitat group. Fields that are fragmented by hedgerows have a greater amount of linear edge made up of woody vegetation, which directly promotes predator populations and movements. Common predators, such as mice, ground squirrels, weasels, badgers, fox, coyote, deer, cowbirds and hawks use the hedgerows for habitat and cover.

volunteers collecting brush from trimmed hedgerows

Volunteers at Holy Wisdom have been working over the winter months to remove these hedgerows. This involves cutting down the trees and shrubs, bucking (cutting) them into manageable pieces and dragging and piling them into burn piles. Winter is a safe time to burn up these piles without danger of inadvertently spreading fires.

In the spring and summer, the hedgerow areas will be sprayed with herbicide to control the weeds that are bound to come up. This process will be repeated until these invasive species have been flushed out of the soil. The areas will then be planted with native forbs and grasses.

volunteers burning removed brush
An additional benefit of removing hedgerows is aesthetic. One day the Holy Wisdom grounds will have a large, sweeping prairie that softly transitions into an oak savanna, which will in turn transitions into full forest.  The result will be a much more natural look than a patchwork of small sections of prairie divided by hedgerows.

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