Landscaping My Way – Installment #3

American Sycamore

American Sycamore

The trees that you can see on either side of this trail are semi-mature American Sycamores.  The American Sycamore is a massive hardwood tree native to portions of the eastern United States.   The sycamore has the largest trunk diameter of the American eastern hardwoods,  and reaches a height of 100 feet during a lifespan that may approach 500-600 years.

American Sycamore

The American Sycamore has a reputation among some as being an undesirable tree, primarily due to the characteristics of the tree which make it somewhat unsuitable to the urban environment.   The massive root system tends to uplift sidewalks and roadbeds, and many decry the constant mess of twigs and leaves that surround the sycamore.  On the plus side of the equation, the sycamore is draught tolerant, flood tolerant, and can grow in a variety of soil conditions, including both alkaline and acidic, as well as compacted soils.  Additionally, the American Sycamore is a very rapidly growing species, which will be evident as you examine the photographs in this post.

American Sycamore

There is a section of land on our property we call “the ridge.”   Formerly used to graze cattle, this area contains about 40 acres of what used to be exclusively forage grasses.  The ridge falls away to creek beds on either side, and because we do not raise cattle, the ridge has been a prime candidate for reforestation of some sort.

American Sycamore

The district forester with the Arkansas Department of Forestry conducted a field survey for us in 2001, and prepared a  management plan which included the suggestion that we plant this ridge area with Loblolly Pine trees.  Naturally, I had other ideas.   It isn’t that I have anything against Loblolly Pines, it’s just that I have an aversion to shovels, watering cans, and building protective cages to protect the young trees from the marauding deer which inhabit the area.  But the ridge needed trees, so what’s a man to do?

American Sycamore

The first year that we resided on this property, I noticed that the pastures of this ridge were inundated with young plants, which I was inclined to shred with the bush hog to promote lush grasslands.  On further examination, and with a little research, I determined that these small plants were tiny sycamores that were popping up in abundance on the ridge.  As long as the ridge needed reforestation, and being as these sycamore trees seemed intent on making the ridge their home, I decided to oblige them by sparing their lives and allowing them the opportunity to grow, unmolested by my tractor.

American Sycamore

In the short time (6 years) that the sycamores have been allowed to grow on the ridge, they have thrived.  Each year I allow additional sycamore saplings to take a foothold on the ridge, and the trees that have been growing since 2001 are now in the 15-20 foot range, perhaps taller.   In the photographs above, you can see sycamore trees of various ages, and how they are gradually taking over the ridge that had previously contained nothing but grasses.  I have not taken the time to try and count the American Sycamores that now make the ridge their home, but I would guesstimate the number to be around 150-200 trees.

This is the third installment of Landscaping, My Way.  The first installment covered the Dwarf Sumac that I am encouraging to grow in selected clearings.  The second installment dealt with the Silver Poplar grove that is spreading within a portion of our woods.  In the first installment, I suggested that you might see a pattern develop regarding what I call “Landscaping, My Way.”  Do you see the pattern yet?

Thirsty Fish?

Pond at low tide

When I noticed that the water level was down in one of our ponds, I began to wonder if the fish were drinking it all.   But after some reflection I realized that 6 grass carp, even aided by a couple of thousand minnows, couldn’t ever drink that much water ;) 

Actually, the water level in this pond is affected by neither the tides nor the voracious thirst of it’s resident fish populations, but by the slow, unrelenting process of evaporation.  Now, if this were a deep pond, I wouldn’t be concerned about the seasonal changes in it’s water level.  But due to some problems encountered during the construction of this pond, the pond is temporarily destined to remain in it’s present shallow state (until such time as budget constraints allow for remedial construction work).

Because this is a shallow pond, it is prone to develop masses of aquatic plant and algae life.  The algae that has formed in this pond in the past was the bright green, unsightly gunk that one does not want to view from the kitchen window constantly, so some kind of action was required to prevent the aquatic growth.  Not wanting to utilize chemical treatments (for a variety of reasons), we have opted to stock this pond with a small number (6) of grass carp, also known as the white amur.  This species of fish is commonly used for the purpose of controlling aquatic vegetative matter, and they have been successfully accomplishing that function in this pond.

The white amur is a herbivorous fresh water fish that is native to the orient.  Because this is a non-native species that tends to want to follow the flow of water, many states have certain requirements that must be met in order to legally stock them in a private pond.  Arkansas does not have such a requirement, but a listing of southern state permit requirements can be found at the Southern Regional Aquaculture Center.

Always curious, but they never lend a hand!

Back to my problem,  which is the low water level in the pond.  Something needed to be done to raise the water level, and since mother nature has not been all that cooperative in the rain department, I had to take matters into my own hands (OK – I’ll acknowledge I had a little help from my friends here.

Temporary solution to low water level

The temporary solution to the low water level was to simply attach enough garden hose to the closest freeze-proof hydrant and run it on down to the pond.  After a few days of running the hose, the pond was again full.

Pond at high tide

Now, when the rains are insufficient to replenish the water that has evaporated, I can simply turn on the hydrant for a few hours per week to keep the pond level up.  This keeps both me, and the grass carp happy.

Oh no! - not more arrows…

On the left-hand side this photograph you can see a half-submerged decoy duck (which I admittedly need to fish out of the pond, clean, and re-float).  On the right you can just barely see one of the grass carp.  The decoy measures 12″ in length, so I am guessing that the length of the carp is over 24″.  The adult grass carp will reach a length of about 4 feet, and weigh in at around 40 pounds.

We’ll be hearing from these fellas sometime soon..

Besides the grass carp to control the algae, and minnows to help control insect larva, you can see that this pond supports a health population of tadpoles.  That’s a good thing, because summer wouldn’t be the same without the chorus of a thousand frogs to listen to each evening.