Tree Body of Palos Park
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Restoration Ecologist
We asked Steve Thomas, a Restoration Ecologist at the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, to provide some recommendations on how Palos Park residents might maintain their yards in an ecologically conscious way.

Here are some of Steve's recommendations, a part of his six page report:

1. Choose to grow perennial wildflower beds rather than lawn grass wherever possible. This will provide food for insects and birds, and it will allow the soil to become less compacted.

2. Mow lawns less frequently so that the grass is a little shaggier. This will allow more organic matter to decay near the top layers and more wildlife will use yard areas. People who have stopped mowing beneath young oaks have noticed a big increase in the growth rate. The tree roots can increase their nutrient uptake as the soil becomes loamier and begins to hold more water.

3. Leave lawn clippings on the lawn. This will encourage a more natural cycle of nutrient flow.

4. Where possible, choose woodchuck mulching over bare ground or short mowed grass.

5. If trillium, bloodroot, Dutchman breeches, toothwort, spring beauties, etc. are still surviving in your yard, do not mow until these plants have flowered and begin to brown up. This mowing delay will allow wildflowers to grow and reproduce. They are beautiful surviving remnants of the original woodlands.

6. Do not allow wild areas with no lawn grass or mowing to become brushed-over. When these areas become very brushy with buckthorn or native species like wild cherries, they lose their populations of small plants. This leads to the problems of drying, thinning topsoil and erosion. The seedlings of the largest and longest-lived trees, oaks and hickories, will not grow up through these thickets. To remain healthy, a woods or prairie in our area needs some periodic removal of brush.

7. When the ground is wet, keep machinery and trucks off your yard and soil. Soil and tree roots are badly compacted and damaged by heavy equipment. Also try not to bang trees with mowers or other machinery.

8. Avoid using chemicals on your yard because they may cause premature tree death. Liquid fertilizers wind up in wetlands and streams where they kill plants and animals. Use fertilizers composed of organic materials.

9. Try not to use much salt on driveways or sidewalks, as this only adds increased stress to plants.

10. The genetic stock of trees from nurseries can be from almost anywhere. An oak sapling from a nursery may have been grown from an acorn collected in Kentucky. In contrast, the old trees on your property are survivors which have incorporated the local climactic and biological influences into their genetic makeup. Local trees are best adapted to this area and they should be maintained. Allow the wild trees on your property to bear seedlings. To do this, simply stop moving a very small section of your yard for one year and put small rabbit fences around the trees' seedlings which have sprouted in the unmowed lawn area. Then resume mowing around these seedlings and let them continue to grow.

11. Efforts to allow oak regeneration on residential properties is especially recommended. The oaks are very long-lived, become very large, are adapted to stressful weather conditions, and are less prone to decay or other defects than many of our native trees. Also, the oaks are now in a period of die-off, due partially to the fact that nobody thought to plant them in decades past. The walnuts and hickories are also quite resistant to structural defects or rotting.

12. The following trees are not recommended for planting because of their structural defects and diseases: Norway maple, silver maple, green ash, Siberian elm.

13. If they aren't posing a danger, leave dead tree trunks to decay on their own. They will be used by birds, insects and fungi.

Steve ends by saying, "I hope that these recommendations are helpful and that some residents may be inspired to work with nature to help create an environmentally-friendly suburban landscape". You can request a copy of his complete report from the Chairman of the Tree Body, Linda Johnson, by calling 361-2492.