It was time to mow the banks of the pond on either side of the deck, something I haven’t done in three years. I let the shoreline go wild on purpose, just hand scything the weeds and saplings near the deck. The original owner/builder cut the grass with a push mower around the pond, an all day job. I couldn’t see spending all that time mowing, thinking that if I let the shoreline grow it would make a better wildlife habitat. After several years of benign neglect the area behind the garden had weeds about five feet tall and quite a few saplings. A little too much neglect I guess.
The side of the pond across from the house I don’t cut. The shoreline is always within ten feet of the property line. The adjacent property over there was a pasture ten years ago and is going through early succession. The owners live in Chicago and bought several properties in this area, with no definite plans to build here. Tulip poplar, red oak, black cherry and other tree species are ten to twenty feet tall. In another ten years of neglect it will look more like a woods than a weedlot. I'm more than happy to let nature take it's course on that shore.
A lawn is essentially a prairie biome where succession is prevented by regular mowing. Cutting stimulates growth of new grass while selecting against the growth of many weeds and certainly trees. My house and yard are in the middle of woods, scrub and pasture. I use two levels of mowing here. The areas close to the house and over the septic field are mowed weekly, like a suburban yard. Then there’s a buffer area surrounding the lawn that butts against the woods and pond. I mow this four to five times a year with a trail cutter, a 44 inch mower with its own engine that is towed by the garden tractor. The trail cutter cuts about six inches high and will go through heavy brush and small saplings.
Last year I tried to mow the banks with the trail cutter. The turf tires on the tractor just slipped and I ended up getting stuck and winching the tractor/mower setup from the banks – something I don’t want to go through again. Now I have some chains for the tractor tires. I removed the mower deck, put the chains on the back tires, and hooked up the trail cutter. It’s a little nerve-wracking to back this setup down a bank toward the water then put the tractor in forward and pull up, but the chains got traction every time. I left about a yard wide strip at the shoreline uncut.
I also mowed the levee with the brush cutter . The pond side of the levee has a lot of willow growth while the other side is thick with blackberries and wild roses. These plants will overgrow the levee in no time if they are not cut regularly. And you can't let trees grow on the levee, they could go down in a storm and once uprooted allow a breach in the levee. It’s a challenge to get the trail cutter as close as possible to the edge of the banks without dropping a wheel over, and the new blackberry canes usually give me some good scratch marks. I’m encouraged to see more cattails establishing themselves around the pond edge, and will cut down some willows this fall to favor the cattails. The cattails harbor Marsh Wrens and Redwing Blackbirds, stabilize the shoreline and keep mud from eroding into the pond.
When it comes to nature it’s hard to find that happy medium between total neglect and overcontrol. Michael Pollian observed that Americans have something of a contradictory view of nature. We either think of it as something to be subdued and controlled completely, or we want areas where we think nature is untouched and pure. Neither approach is realistic. You can never control nature completely, and there is no part of the natural world that is not affected in some way by people. But you can work with it.