Friday, November 22, 2013

Understory Restoration: Mountain Laurel

If you are fortunate enough to have eliminated oriental bittersweet from a wooded area, the next question is, "Now what?" In most cases it is necessary to help mother nature with restoring the understory (the plants that grow under the trees). Doing nothing invites the return of oriental bittersweet, Japanese knotweed, winged euonymous and other aggressive invasives that will take over the understory.

At a recent Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group meeting  mountain laurel (kalmia latifolia) was suggested by Logan Senack, CT Invasive Plant Coordinator, and several attendees as a good plant to include in an understory restoration effort. Mountain laurel also happens to be the Connecticut state plant.

Mountain laurel is fairly shade tolerant and will grow very well at the sunny edges of a wooded site, where sun-seeking oriental bittersweet typically thrives and gets its start. By increasing the shade to the understory floor mountain laurel can reduce the growth of oriental bittersweet. Mountain laurel will also grow in a wooded grove but growth is less vigorous as tree canopy shade increases.

You may ask, "But bittersweet shades the area too so what's the difference?" The difference is that mountain laurel never grows into the forest canopy for light, so it never shades and kills the trees and all other growth. Mountain laurel provides dappled shade at the understory level and is very compatible with a wide range of other beneficial plants.

Mountain laurel is an excellent repacement for invasive plants like winged euonymous, which has a very dense root system that crowds out other plants.

For more information on mountain laurel go to:
UCONN Plant Information
Broken Arrow Nursery
Dick Jaynes Mountain Laurel YouTube Videos: Part 1  Part 2  Part 3