Grants and workshops to help landowners create and improve woodland habitat

The tree in my grandmother’s backyard had low, sturdy branches that were perfect for climbing and could easily hold four children at a time. My cousin Lori, the oldest, would sit on the largest, most comfortable branch near the base of the tree. Meanwhile I, the youngest and most monkey-like, would climb high into the branches until I could see over the top of the roof. To us, it seemed that tree had stood there through all of time, and so I was shocked one day when my grandmother showed me a picture of the house shortly after it was built in 1950. The yard was nothing but a patch of bare dirt with no trees or shade in sight.

When the Washington Conservation District first began its tree program in 1978, one can imagine local residents planting spindly saplings on their properties and wondering if and when the trees would finally grow large enough to shade the yard and block the wind. As they planted windbreaks in their farm fields and woods around their homes, it must have seemed an awful lot of work to nurture those tiny seedlings that were barely taller than the grass. Driving through the rolling hills of Washington County today, however, those same trees stand tall, as if they’ve always been there.

WCD tree sale
This year marked the 40th anniversary of the Washington Conservation District tree sale, through which local landowners have purchased and planted 15,000-20,000 trees per year.

In addition to its annual tree sale, the Washington Conservation District offers advice and assistance to landowners hoping to create and improve woodland habitat on their properties. One way of doing this is by offering free site visits to Washington County landowners to identify potential planting projects and offer advice on habitat management.

In Washington and southern Chisago Counties, local watershed districts also offer mini-grants to help landowners convert lawns and cultivated farm fields to native habitat. People most often use the grants to create raingardens and native plant gardens, but funds can also be used to purchase and plant trees and shrubs.

To schedule a site visit at your property and learn more about available grants, go to:

Washington Conservation District will also be holding a series of three workshops this year to help woodland landowners learn how to identify and manage invasive species such as oriental bittersweet and buckthorn, and select good native trees and shrubs to use as replacement species. The workshops will be held:

  • Sunday, June 24, 1-3pm at Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park
  • Tuesday, Sept. 18, 5:30-7:30pm at Big Marine Park Reserve
  • Saturday, Sept. 22, 1-3pm at Lake Elmo Park Reserve

To RSVP for one of the workshops, go to:

Buckthorn seedling
During three upcoming workshops, Washington Conservation District staff will offer advice on how to manage buckthorn and oriental bittersweet, two invasive species found in woodlands.

If you’re looking for advice on what types of trees to plant on your property, the Minnesota DNR provides information about 52 native tree species on its website, and also has recommended trees for Minnesota by region.

The red pine, also known as Norway pine, is Minnesota’s State Tree and once covered vast stretches of northern Minnesota and the upper St. Croix River Basin. Itasca State Park was established in 1891, partly to preserve remnant stands of native red pine before they fell to logging. Red pines grow 60 to 80 feet tall, with straight trunks covered in reddish brown bark, and thrive in sandy loam or atop dry, rocky ridges. The trees also tend to drop needles, creating a carpet beneath and a quiet space to hide from the summer’s heat.

Red pines at Pine Point Regional Park in Washington County create a peaceful trail for hiking.

Bur oak, white oak, black cherry, white pine, chokecherry, and American plum are all trees that provide good habitat and food sources for birds. The oaks attract more than 500 species of larval insects, which are a critical source of protein for birds during the summer. American plum, black cherry, and chokecherry all have beautiful blooms during the spring and chokecherry is a good choice for replanting after buckthorn removal. All of the tree species provide shade in the heat of the summer, give off oxygen for us to breathe, and collect rainwater as it falls, limiting the amount that runs off into streets and streams. Trees and shrubs also help to stabilize shorelines and steep hillside, protecting against erosion.

Trees and shrubs line the streambank along Brown’s Creek in Stillwater, helping to stabilize the steep hills through the gorge.

According to a Greek proverb, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Planting a tree doesn’t offer the same instant gratification as planting flowers in a garden, but the long-term rewards are worth the wait.