Before returning to the United States after five years in Istanbul, Sharon bought her new house in McFarland, Wisconsin sight-unseen. The sellers neglected to share any photos of the back yard, and upon her arrival she understood why. The yard was jammed with 45-year-old overgrown arborvitae and piles of junk. An army of buckthorn and honeysuckle from the neighboring forest marched into the yard. Much of the grass was dead.
Action was needed. Luckily for this piece of land the new occupant saw it’s value. Sharon Yildiz is a middle-aged woman who works full-time and volunteers as a dog trainer for Occupaws Guide Dog Association. A bad back and bad knees were not going to stop her from doing what needed to be done – let the work begin!
With the exception of a few trees tagged by the DNR and downed by a friend with a chainsaw, all of the labor for the clean-up was done by Sharon, alone. Her tools: a 10” Felco pruning saw, an 8” chain saw on a pole, and a truck.
What follows is a photo documentary of Sharon’s trials, tribulations and accomplishments in realizing and solving a landscape dilemma.
Seriously overgrown arborvitae dominate the property.
The trimmed arbovitae and cleared ground set the stage for a beautiful woodland planting.
After hauling away a few truckloads of trash the Buckthorn is revealed, creeping out of the woods along the hillside that runs to the back of the property.
Another view of the buckthorn that completely blocks any view of the forest.
The removal of nearly 200 buckthorns, plus a few honeysuckles, reveals a hillside transition from forest to yard.
The clean-up was extensive. Sharon spent two weeks of dragging brush to the road for the semi-annual village chipping-day, hauling 25 truckloads of brush to the brush recycling station.
Finally in 2012. A fence was installed for her two dogs. A view of the forest now reveals the beautiful old oaks with plenty of breathing room.
In the fall Sharon decided to plant Prairie Nursery’s No Mow Lawn Seed Mix inside the fence in hopes of controlling erosion in the now-bare soil. She ordered the Seed Mix online without calling us with her questions – she did wonder if the area would be too shady. Upon receiving her No Mow she scattered the seed mix on the slope, by hand. Because of the drought, she set about watering it 30-60 minutes a day (with a sprinkler) for several weeks.
The fescue blend grew well, even though it is not recommended for heavy shade. However, when it started to sprout most of it was no longer on the slope! The seeds had rolled downhill.
By the time the snow melted this spring, most of the slope was bare soil again. In the steep corner of the yard, large gaps were already visible under the fence due to the erosion. It was apparent that her expensive new fence was going to slide down the slope before the loan was paid off.
With very little money left to deal with erosion mitigation and needing an immediate solution Sharon wrote to Neil Diboll at Prairie Nursery. Neil wrote back with a simple, inexpensive plan involving a combination of Virginia Wild Rye seed and erosion blankets.
Sharon ordered 2 lbs of Virginia Wild Rye, plus some native flower seeds to add in the fall. Erosion blankets! (A completely new idea to Sharon.) They were on sale at Menards and came with biodegradable stakes. The blanket and stakes never have to be removed, and will degrade naturally over about 8 months.
As soon as the snow melted, in a single 16-hour day, Sharon went to work:
- Picked up two trash cans full of compost from the city ($2).
- Spread the compost under the fence to fill in the erosion-caused gaps.
- Loaded 2 lb. of Virginia wild rye seed from Prairie Nursery into a hand-crank seed spreader. Forgot to close chute on spreader. All seed fell out between the garage and the slope.
- Picked-up spilled wild rye by hand and with a shop-vac.
- Spread the now 1 lb. of seed on the bare slope.
- Laid out erosion blankets, starting at the bottom, and overlapping up the slope. (Fell down the slope several times. Sprained foot and jammed a finger.)
- At top of slope, bridged the blankets inside and outside the fence by tucking squares of the erosion blanket under the fence. This served to hold the fresh compost in place. Total coverage: 1200 square feet covered with 1500 square ft. of overlapping erosion blankets.
After watering anywhere from daily to once every 3 days, depending upon rainfall, here is the result, 18 days after planting. Sharon’s dogs pose in the photos for the sake of perspective, but the photos still don’t convey just how steep the slope is. (Also, note the buckthorn still in the forest – Sharon plans on girdling them this summer.)
Virginia wild rye peeking through the erosion blankets:
Inside the fence, hostas and periwinkle (vinca) appear, planted by some former home owner in a non-native attempt at erosion control.
Outside the fence, in the conservation forest, a Jack-in-the-pulpit grows through the erosion blanket with no problem.
The erosion blanket was key to success. The Virginia Wild Rye now grows very thick on the slope and erosion is controlled. Sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know. If ever in doubt, give us a call – we’re glad to help solve problems or point you in the right direction.
For Sharon, this project was no small undertaking and we congratulate her on her decision, hard work and perseverance! Many thanks for the photo documentation, too!