Brush land will eventually turn itself into a forest. It is a natural intermediate stage between damaged land and forest, where there is sufficient rain to grow trees.
In our desire to decide which trees we prefer, we can look first to see what trees are sprouting, and encourage what we want by removing the undesirable trees.
My uncle bought 50 acres of mature timberland when he was a young man. It was a good mix of valuable timber but even so, some wood is more valuable than others. He had a payment to make, and chose to increase the value of his timber at the same time.
After walking his acreage and closely noting each species, he started spot cutting his least desirable trees, in his case pine. Very marketable, but not as high in price as his hardwoods. Because he chose not to clear cut, he kept the value of the land intact through the whole process. As the first species was removed, it encouraged growth of some smaller higher value trees. He also planted seedlings of his higher value species, or in most cases, chose a seedling that was already there under the canopy.
Every year he cut and culled, making solid choices about how much to remove and what to keep. Always favoring his most expensive woods for longer growth. Today, his 50 acres is still mature forest, but he has improved his species mix and increased his asset value. His native forest is mainly timber.
If you have an area that has been routinely slashed, and it is growing up in brush, you can still walk through and prioritize your species.
My 14 acres had a different mix. I had a brushy fence line that was mixed deciduous trees. When I took a closer look, I had wild plums predominating, with native persimmons coming in second. For a Food Forest this was looking pretty good up front. I could utilize the fruit on both species.
I had a large Bois D’Arc tree which I chose to keep. As I cleared around it, I made a nice place to sit in the shade. My little strip started looking like a park.
Several Hackberries became firewood, even though they are good bird food and made shade.
I opened room around the red oak trees that were younger and struggling. I am sure squirrels brought these over from the massive oaks in the neighbor’s yard across the street. Red oak acorns are higher in tannins than white oak acorns, but their acorns are premium wildlife food just the same. If soaked in water to remove the tannin, they are excellent for me to eat. Oaks are the best wildlife tree we have.
I somehow missed an elm tree in the mix, but it shot up and got my attention. I let it grow.
I did go into the brushy plums and remove some limbs and cut a few down to make them more accessible and encourage growth into tree form. I favored the persimmons and opened room around them for growth.
In the tangle, I found two old wild rose bushes. I couldn’t open enough sun for them to bloom and fruit where they were without losing that old Bois D’Arc. That fall I cut them back, dug them out, and transferred them to a sunny spot along my fence where they started producing pretty flowers and rosehips.
There were a few wild blackberries in there and that same fall I moved some to another fence line and let them go. They went crazy and produced a lot of fruit.
I stopped the haying along the interior edge of that fence, and added a pecan tree closer to the pond. It did fine with no additional water. As small plum trees sprouted up in their new protected area, I thinned them to keep a better spread, added persimmon seeds manually, and increased my persimmon ratio to plums.
Bit by bit, I took a brushy fence line and created an oasis of shade and a wind break along my northwest boundary. Once I opened it up a little, the deeply rooted trees made fast growth. Most “brush” that has been cut over and over are trees that have deep root systems allowing fast growth if left alone.
Granting that I made no effort for timber value, the food value alone for this fairly small area was greater than the commercial value of the hay in the middle.
Still, my Ag tax exemption was based on hay, so I chose to keep working the value of my outside edges while shifting the center to native hay, a healthier option than coastal hay.
While working the west boundary in fruit trees, I kept walking my fence line looking at any trees that might show up.
My north fence was higher and dry, without tree seedlings. I started bringing in the occasional prickly pear pad. Having lived in Mexico for years, I developed a taste for tunas, the fruit. I had a long dry fence on that side with great possibility for tunas and nopales (prickly pear pads). Each pad settled in well and were adding pads and fruit. I also liked this reinforcement of my barbed wire fence. I planted them in front of an old gate that my neighbor kept opening for his cattle to graze on my richer property. His land continued to be as poor as mine was when I bought it. I planted my first prickly pears straight across that gate. Good fences make better neighbors.
Leeward of these productive native trees, I planted two apple trees and two Japanese persimmons. Later I added two european plum trees and two pear trees, with a second pecan farther out. All protected from the fiercest prairie winds by the hardy plums.
Trees so often get planted alone and under harsh conditions. Some survive but many do not. Brush can not only be turned into timber or food production, but serve as protection and nursery plants for preferred species.
I had excellent food production very quickly because I accepted what was given along the fence line. I chose the northwest because I needed a wind break.
Along my east fence, I allowed a few elms to grow. The neighbor on that side was concerned about shading out his coastal and ran cattle in that field part of the time. I brought in several Thornless Honey Locust trees and told him he could slash anything that grew over the fence, but… when drought comes, his hay will do poorly and Honey Locust can feed his cattle. He got interested and volunteered to pay for enough Honey Locust seedlings to plant that 800 foot fence… on my side. I love a good neighbor.