At Joint Base Lewis-McChord, tree plantations have failed repeatedly in areas that had once supported Douglas fir forest, with Scotch broom invasion replacing forest. Maximizing the effectiveness of Scotch broom control is a top management priority. The studies presented here have two main foci: timing of control relative to the Scotch broom life cycle, and chemical vs. manual control. We also explore the effects of forest edges on Douglas fir seedling survival and mycorrhizal colonization.
We set up a large-scale experiment (6.3ha total treatment area) at 5 heavily invaded sites in which all broom was mechanically removed in 2007. Each site contained 4 blocks of 12 treatments. We measured density of newly germinated seedlings using 24m-long, 10cm-wide belt transects, and percent cover of Scotch broom using line-intercept method on 24m transects.
Seedling density (representing germination from the seedbank) peaked in year 2 and varied dramatically among sites, with one site showing an averageof nearly 350 seedlings/m2.
Scotch broom percent cover in control plots increased most rapidly between years 2 and 3, by the fourth year reaching over 150% cover in one site and around 100% cover in two other sites. In contrast, the slowest growing site had only about 20% cover after four years. Plant size also varied across sites. By the fourth year, average plant height was around 2.5m in two of the sites, but only around 1m in the slowest growing site.
Chemical vs. mechanical control of seedlings.
We compared different approaches to removing broom seedlings at a large scale. Mechanical control comprised “scarifying” the soil to scrape off all seedlings with a mulcher, while chemical control was a broadcast spray of triclopyr herbicide. We also compared a single scarify treatment to multiple years of treatment (to stimulate and then exhaust the seedbank). With percent cover three years later as the response variable, we found few generalizable differences among treatments. In two sites, herbicide strongly reduced (by over 75%) Scotch broom cover. In one site, multiple years of scarification reduced (by about 50%) cover.
Chemical control across seasons.
We incorporated the question of seasonality into the herbicide component of our experiment because of a lack of consensus among practitioners about the best time of year to spray Scotch broom. We sprayed whole plots (56’ x 56’) with Garlon 4 Ultra (triclopyr) in March, May, or September of 2009, and quantified percent cover of Scotch broom in 2012. All the spray treatments had strongly reduced broom cover relative to controls, with the exception of one site that had very low cover altogether. The effect of the treatment did not vary with season in four of the five sites. In the fifth site, March spray was less effective.
Chemical vs. mechanical control of older plants.
We compared brushcutting to triclopyr spray on 2.5-year old plants in September 2010,. Herbicide led to a significantly higher kill rate per plant, consistently 80-95% across all sites, compared to variable rates (25-95%) for brush cutting. However, two years later percent cover of Scotch broom was showing only a non-significant trend toward better results with herbicide. Both brushcutting and triclopyr spray strongly reduced percent cover of Scotch broom compared to the untreated control in all but one site.
Edge effects, soil inoculum, and mycorrhizae.
Our early studies suggested that Douglas-fir seedlings planted near adult trees or forest edges established with much higher success than more isolated seedlings. We did a large-scale, well-replicated experiment to test whether tree establishment was consistently higher near forest edges, and also whether mycorrhizal fungi play a role in this edge effect. At the same five sites, we established transects along forest edges and paired transects 15-25m out into the clearcut. We planted 958 Douglas fir seedlings, and we transplanted soil with each seedling: half received forest soil and the other half received soil from the invaded clearcut. Survival was much higher on the forest edge, and mycorrhizal colonization was also higher on the edge. However, the effect of transplanting soil inoculum was not significant, and even the non-significant trend disappeared completely by the second year. Our results suggest that sites that are otherwise inhospitable for young trees and in which plantations have failed may still show potential to regenerate slowly, starting at the edges. These results also have implications for how the geometry of forest harvest methods influences reforestation success.