You might be surprised! Just a little narrow slip of “forest” can add definition to the edge of a landscape, and provide a natural visual screen and wind buffer that is so, so much more interesting than a standard-issue row of arborvitae.
It doesn’t take a lot of space to have a “mini-forest”– a little piece of foresty-feeling landscape in your yard. By grouping a few trees together, and perhaps adding a few shrubs and some groundcover, you will have created an area that evokes the mystery of a forest, and involves much less maintenance than a lawn.
We have many smaller-scale native trees that can be used in groupings for this purpose, and many of them have beautiful bloom and even berries that extend their season of interest as well as their value to pollinators and birds. Evergreen trees and shrubs can be mixed in strategically to ensure that any need for a winter buffer (wind or visual) is also taken care of.
You can plant older, larger trees if you want an instant forest, but it can also be interesting to watch it mature over time. Young forests, sometimes called successional forests, are dynamic and beautiful in their own right, like children growing into adults.
Planting a forest is the single most powerful thing a homeowner can do for the environment. It reduces CO2 in the atmosphere by sequestering carbon, keeping it safely in use and locked away for many generations at a time. Forests also help clean the Bay and replenish local aquifers, by collecting rainwater in leaves and slowing down the flow of water so that it can be filtered through roots, percolating gradually and more deeply into the earth.
Perhaps the most immediate and tangible benefit of planting even a small strip of native forest is the sudden boost to biodiversity. A newly planted native forest of young saplings sets in motion a chain of positive events that can quickly result in a flourishing new community of wings, feathers, and fur.
Parts of this article were reprinted from an earlier article by Chris Pax that appeared in the Adkins Arboretum’s Native Seed newsletter.