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Q: Will tree regrowth after logging help undergrowth die off?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016  

Q: My husband and I are interested in purchasing land that had been logged between 5 and 10 years ago. It is growing back well, but there is a TON of brush and briars under the trees, so you can't walk through the land. I have been told that as the trees grow, they will block sunlight, and the brush underneath will die off. Is this true? How long will this take?

A: What is happening on your land is known as "ecological succession," and it is the process by which the forest regenerates after some sort of large-scale disturbance–in this case, logging, but fire and flood also are common disturbances. What specific plants recolonize the bare ground and what specific trees end up growing there depends on where you are, the soil types, and the nature of the disturbance. At first, small, soft tissue plants, including flowers, briars, roses, and poison ivy, will colonize a site. Typically these are followed by evergreen species such as eastern red cedar, loblolly pine, and Virginia pine. Hardwood species such as oaks, hickories, and tulip tree will also begin to grow and will eventually crowd out the evergreens.

It sounds as if you are at an awkward stage of the process, when there is dense undergrowth. While not particularly people-friendly, it has tremendous habitat value for birds and small mammals. I see two broad options for you. One is to cut trails through the area so you can make use of at least parts of it. There may be features, such as a stream, that could be part of the tour route. You would have to mow the trail now and then to keep plants from retaking it. A second possibility is that you may be able to burn the undergrowth and still allow the trees to grow up. But do not just undertake a prescribed burn on your own! You should contact your local Virginia department of Forestry office to inquire about management options.

Responder: Ed Milhouse, RCA #350, Haymarket, VA