Leaf blowers to clear mowed fire breaks

by Bill Kleiman

Leaf blowers are used to move vegetation off of fire breaks to make them less flammable.

A backpack leaf blower

I once sent two hardy youth, Ryan K and Austin S, out to clear two miles of woodland fire break, each with a back pack leaf blower. After a long day of noise, brambles in their faces, hills to go up and down, they got it done.

We needed a bigger tool. It ends up golf courses use tractor mounted leaf blowers to clear their fairways. They work for us too. Below is our leaf blower for about the last decade.

Here is a video of the leaf blower above clearing oak woodland fire break of leaves and mowed vegetation. These cost $4,00 to $5,000: https://youtu.be/dGYF0BHrZro

For prairie fire breaks we mow a break in the prairie, then use a hay rake to move the cut vegetation to the side. Look for the blog we have on hay rakes. Here is a video of a tractor mounted leaf blower removing the raked prairie, the windrow, off of the fire break: https://youtu.be/TWFiHMW8k4M

We still carry and use backpack leaf blowers. They are nice for tasks like short fire breaks, or blowing leaves from around small flammable things like sheds and wood piles, as in below:

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UN Decade on Restoration special issue

By Elizabeth Bach, Ecosystem Restoration Scientist, The Nature Conservancy


Ecosystem restoration is a critical tool to reduce biodiversity loss, combat climate change, improve ecosystem functioning, and support human health and well-being. In recognition of restoration’s role in meeting multiple global challenges, The United Nations has declared 2021-2030 as The Decade on Restoration. As restoration practitioners, we are the boots on the ground doing restoration. We know what works and what doesn’t. We keep trying new ideas to improve restoration success. We share tips, practices, and ideas through the Grassland Restoration Network, including this blog.

In an effort to hear and share lessons from restoration “doers” from all around the world, two professional organizations, the Society for Ecological Restoration and the British Ecological Society, are collaborating to produce a unique Special Feature on the Decade of Restoration. This will be a peer-reviewed special issue featuring papers published from eight scientific journals published by these two societies. These journals intentionally publish different types of ecological research and one journal, Ecological Solutions and Evidence, includes an article type, From Practice, which are authored or co-authored by restoration practitioners. These can include case studies of successful projects, calls for new approaches for dealing with persistent problems or perspectives on research topics relevant for management. The article should make clear recommendations regarding how the issue can be taken forward to ensure improved science-based practice. (from the journal’s website)

As an associate editor for Ecological Solutions and Evidence, I would like to personally invite you all to consider submitting a manuscript for this Special Feature, to share your expertise with colleagues and the world. Many of the posts on this blog would be an excellent starting point for a From Practice manuscript. Writing a manuscript is daunting, so collaborations with colleagues are strongly encouraged. I am happy to be a resource if you’re interested in the idea, but not sure how to get started.

The process to submit your work is:

  1. Develop an idea or brush off some data that sitting around in file cabinets (or computer files)
  2. Send a title and a few sentences about their proposed contribution and the target journal to one of the two editors by November 13, 2020:
    1. Dr. Holly Jones, Lead Editor, Ecological Solutions and Evidence, hjones@niu.edu 
    1. Dr. Stephen Murphy, Editor-in-Chief, Restoration Ecology, stephen.murphy@uwaterloo.ca 
  3. The editor will provide feedback on if the proposed paper is a good fit, and may suggested collaborators who submitted similar ideas that could be combined into a single paper.
  4. Write the paper and submit by January 31, 2021
  5. The paper will go through the peer-reviewed process. It is possible the paper could be rejected during the peer-review stage.
  6. The Special Feature will be published in 2021.

Full details of the call for papers can be found here: https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/hub/Call_for_Papers_Decade_of_Ecosystem_Restoration?campaign=dartwol|5453941188

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Seed Collection Guide

by Kelly Schultz, Lake County Forest Preserves and Volunteer Steward Dale Shields.

The story on how these came about, in the words of Dale Shields….

A few years ago, after I started volunteering at the Lake County Native Seed Nursery, I decided to try to make use of my photography hobby with my volunteer work.  I had noted that all the published field guides showed plants in flower, but not what they look like when it’s time to collect seed, so I started taking pictures of plants when the seed was ripe. 

People had been telling Kelly Schultz, director of the nursery at that time, that she could write a book with her knowledge of seed collection and propagation lore.  So we decided to work together to make a set of pictorial guides. 

We used the Field Museum’s field Guide format and have completed a set of 12 field guides showing native (and some adventive) plants.  We originally divided the guides up according to season and habitat to keep each guide a size that we could email out to Lake County volunteers. The guides are ordered roughly by photo date, with exceptions to put similar looking plants together.  An index is available to help determine what species might be found in which guide. 

Link to the Field Museum guides, including the seed guides follows.  Note once there you can access an index list of all the species covered in the guide:  https://fieldguides.fieldmuseum.org/guides


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by Bryon Walters

Phragmites australis, Common or Giant Reed, can be a very problematic invasive in wetlands and wet prairies. If left unchecked, it can form large monoculture, impenetrable jungles 6-10’ high. Usually nothing else will grow under the dense canopy. Large infestations can be controlled with high pressure, high volume, non selective herbicides, leaving the area brown and dead.

Small infestations should be dealt with as soon as possible. Here is a seep area that has about 24 stems.

September is a great time to deal with the stalks. You want to treat it before the large seed heads turn brown, ripening to the point of seed falling off. Early in the Fall, the seed heads may be young, green and unripe.

The only effective herbicides for treating Phrag are Glyphosate and Imazapyr. Both are non selective and will kill everything it drips on.

The high or good quality areas, the best approach to rid the Phrag and save the surrounding vegetation is a surgical approach.

First, starting in the back of a patch of Phrag, use hand pruners to cut the stalk off about knee or waist high. The lower the better, but personal comfort may dictate the height. Cast the long stalk you just cut with the seed head, off to the side laying it somewhat flat. If you just drop it where you cut it, it will remain upright and you will be confused and grab that stalk again thinking it needs to be cut. Use sharp pruners, I use Felco #2’s, to make a clean cut. You need to see the hollow hole in the remaining, standing stalk you just cut. If it is smashed closed, cut again just below your first cut. It should look like this.

Next, have a hand held bottle sprayer that is filled with 100% Glyphosate and a little blue dye. Slowly spray a straight stream into the hollow stem. It will hold various amounts of herbicide. You may want to practice spraying water into a straw before hand. The Phrag hole will be half the size of a straw hole. It takes a little practice and patience. When I cut the stalk I leave a small portion of a leaf sheath to use as a backboard when spraying into the hollow stem. It can stop the occasional overspray from running a stream of Glyphosate onto the ground or other vegetation. Sometimes Reed Canary Grass is all around and you don’t mind herbicide dripping on that. After getting in a rhythm, I may cut 3-5 stems in a group and then spray them. Don’t do more than that at one time because you may not find the stems. Get good with one’s and two’s before moving to larger groups.

Work moving backwards away from the stalk(s) you just treated. You do not want to step on, bending or breaking the stem you just treated. I can treat about 100 stems in an hour. I rarely cut more than that but on occasion I’ve had to.

An advisable follow up option would be to gather up the cut stems that are laying everywhere and put them on a pile. Working from the pile, I cut off all the seed heads and put them in a sack to carry off site. Even young green unripe seed heads could potentially ripen and reseed the area. It doesn’t take too long to do this. You’re reassurances are worth the little extra efforts.

I have successfully eradicated and eliminated Phragmites entirely from areas using this surgical approach. I’ve treated it with wonderful plants like Bog Goldenrod, Grass-of-Parnassus and Gentians growing right underneath the Phragmites. My follow up visits have shown zero damage to the native plants. Give it a try and you’ll be a doctor in no time.

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Registration open for September 15 virtual GRN sponsored workshop

Here is the Event Brite registration for this free workshop:


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Does over-seeding prairie plantings work?

By Bill Kleiman, Project Director of Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy

Have you planted seed into an already established prairie planting, trying to increase floral diversity?  You had that warm hopeful feeling. Those tiny seeds in your hand soon to be germinating.  New flowers blooming in your restoration.

Did what you plant ever show up?  Most of us have examples of where the seed planted did eventually produce new populations, but more often we shrug when asked.

Way back in 2009 I had this study question: What is the best way to over-seed an already established prairie planting to increase its diversity?  Below is the random block we set up with four treatments and  a control.  I explain the block below.

This was in an established prairie, with reasonable forb diversity, rather thick in warm season grasses.  Look at the top row of cells.  In cell A1 we worked up the prairie sod with a disc, then raked it with a harrow, and then seeded a rich and abundant mix of seed, well over 50 species at a heavy pounds per acre.  Would this cell turn out the best?

In A2 we only added seed.

In A3 we harrowed, seeded, and then in mid-summer we sprayed with Poast grass herbicide.   Would the grass herbicide set back the Indian grass and big bluestem and make space for our seed to grow?

A4 was the control with no seed added.

A5 we harrowed and seeded.

The B row and C row are the same setup but not in same order.  This is called a Random Block study.

Below photo looks down at the block when we set it up.  It was burned before we did anything.  You can see the harrowed and disced cells.

Below is the disc in one of the cells.  We worked up the prairie sod several inches deep.


Ten years later what do you think we see when we walk along this experimental block?

All the cells look the same to me.  Elizabeth says she saw some subtle differences.

The experiment is ongoing.  We are looking for a grad student to adopt this experiment and collect the vegetation data.

My takeaways on adding seed to established plantings is this:

It takes a long time for the seed planted to produce a noticeable sized plant.  There are exceptions where plants show up in just a handful of years after addition, but you should expect a decade, or two decades, to get the establishment you want.

Yes, you should add seed to those prairie plantings.   Many species you want to see in your restorations will not blow in, nor be dropped in by birds flying over, or carried in the fur of rabbits or deer or mice.  It will be you planting the seed.

Patience is a prairie word.

Below are the experimenters in 2009:  Susan Kleiman, 9 year old Leah K, and myself, Bill K.    I coaxed Leah with promises of fun science.  She is now 20 years old majoring in plant ecology.

We did three of these same blocks.  More details here: https://www.nachusagrasslands.org/links–resources.html

If you want to see the seed list we planted look to planting 91 and 92 here: https://www.nachusagrasslands.org/planting-histories-in-chronological-order.html


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Save the Date! Growing Through Change: Sourcing Climate-Resilient Seed in Ecological Restoration

Join us on September 15, 2020 for a virtual conversation about the importance of sourcing seed for ecological restoration with climate resilience in mind.

All are welcome to join this virtual version of the Grassland Restoration Network annual meeting

Short presentations by researchers in restoration ecology and regional seed producers will be followed by breakout sessions for discussions on strategies and steps for moving forward.

Registration opens August 31, 2020! You will receive a follow-up email when the registration link goes live.


Presentations by:

Anna Bucharova at the Institute of Landscape Ecology, Münster, Germany. Anna’s work is focused on challenges in using seeds for ecological restoration under changing environments and the rapid evolution of climate change.

Julie Etterson at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. Julie studies how native plant species respond to human impacts on the environment, such as climate change. She is also the principal scientist behind Project Baseline, a research seed bank that studies the evolution of wild plant populations over time and space.

Jennifer Ogle, the coordinator of the Arkansas Native Seed Program. Jennifer is working hard to provide locally sourced native seed for large-scale habitat enhancement, habitat restoration and revegetation projects in Arkansas.

There will also be lightning talks from regional native seed producers including Cardno, Inc. and The Prairie State Nursery, as well as from representatives of Forest Preserve and Conservation Districts and NGOs on their seed sourcing strategies and protocols used for their restoration projects.

Would you like to share your seed sourcing policy and experiences in a lightning talk?

We invite workshop participants to engage with each other by presenting a very brief talk regarding their seed sourcing policy and experience.

We will have two focal topics: “Seed Sourcing—What’s YOUR Policy?” and “Seed Sourcing Strategies—On the Ground Implementation.” If you are interested, please email Pati Vitt at pvitt@LCFPD.org by September 5.

Join us on September 15, 2020, 9 am-12:30 pm (CDT) as we discuss how seed sourcing may provide the foundation for climate-resilient restorations in what we hope will be the first of many conversations.

One anticipated outcome of this workshop will be the formation of a working group to continue studying and developing best practices for sourcing seed now and into the future.

Organizers include:

Pati Vitt, Lake County Forest Preserve District

Sponsored in part by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Climate Adaptation Fund.

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Rapid Assessment Monitoring, a video

By:  Julianne Mason, Restoration Program Coordinator, Forest Preserve District of Will County

Stewards are busy people.  Fire work, weed work, seed harvesting, brush thinning. How can you also find time to assess how your restorations are coming along?

Watch our video and see how a rapid assessment can be done.

The video link is https://www.nachusagrasslands.org/monitoring.html

At the same link are the two templates we mention.

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Sweet clover control

By Bill Kleiman, Nachusa Grasslands, TNC

In Nebraska, Chris Helzer of TNC, does no or little work against sweet clover.  Perhaps Nebraska is  dry enough that yellow and white sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis and M alba) are there but not overwhelming.  In rain soaked Illinois we find prairie plantings can look like we are raising sweetclover hay.

We sometimes spot spray sweetclover with a pack.  In ruderal areas we sometimes use a tractor sprayer.

We like weed spading sweet clover as the spade is light weight, simple, and effective.  We loosen the soil next to the clover and pluck it out, rather than tug until our backs hurt. I have written about these weed spades previously on this blog.

You can see we can grow some huge sweet clover plants.

Sweet clover is a biennial so if you mow it very short, on year two, when it is in full flower the plants typically do not re-sprout.  On some rocky soils it is hard to mow the yellow clover short enough to not have it re-sprout.

We use rotary mowers.  The batwing mower tends to mow short enough to pick up and cut the plants knocked down by the tractor tires.

The advantage of a sickle mower is that the cutter is off to the side.  Below, Austin Webb of Byron Forest Preserve is showing me their mower used for sweetclover patches.  They are relatively simple, quiet as the tractor can be run at low throttle, and they are nimble to maneuver. After two seasons with this mower they are pleased.

Below, the flail mower is another way to mow weeds and lanes. This photo is from a manufacturer’s website.  Flail mowers rotate the blade not horizontal to the ground but in the other dimension, like a brush mower head rotates, or a roto-tiller spins.

Below is a photo submitted by Joe Blastick of South Dakota TNC.  They call this one Mowasaurus.  This is a silage chopper.  It is designed to cut a crop like hay with its flail mower components, then auger to its built in chopper, and then its blower sends the product into a wagon trailing behind.  Here they use it to mow a fire break and then blow the product into the wind off the fire break.

I tried one of these in our Illinois 5 foot high prairie and it kept jamming the chopper with all that prairie.  You want the wind to be modest or away from you.  It does not like lots of rocks.


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A simple experiment on birdsfoot trefoil

by Bill Kleiman, Nachusa Grasslands, TNC

I often carry in my truck a spray bottle of herbicide that is 20% garlon 4 in mineral oil, a basal bark herbicide.  I use this on various brush I see during the summer.  Last year, while cruising for weeds,  I found a few dozen herbaceous invasive plants, birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).  Ordinarily I would spray them with a water based foliar herbicide, perhaps Garlon 3A or Crossbow.  But I did not have those with me.  I just had the basal bark mix.

I know if I sprayed the foliage of the plant with the basal bark mix it would kill it.  But that would be an expensive treatment.  But, what if I just sprayed a small spot, an inch or two wide, at the base of these big sprawling plants?  Would that kill them or just brown them out and leave the root alive?  How would I know if the plant roots died?

I came up with a simple experiment.

Below is my sprayer with basal bark mix and a Lotus plant flagged with blue tape.

Below is a big Lotus plant which I have just sprayed a small circle in the middle of the plant where the stems go to earth.    A complass plant leaf is at bottom.

Below is another Lotus a few days after spraying basal bark in the center.  In this specimen I gathered the stems up to find that center and then applied a small amount of basal bark mix close to the earth.  You can see the plant wilted.  Is it dead?  Note the aluminum tag I applied to a twisted end of wire that that is about 15 inches high.   How will I know I killed the root?  When I return a year later, find this tag, and find no living Lotus there.  The tag is prairie fire proof.

Below is one dead Lotus the next summer.  Therefore, the basal bark mix killed the root.

I tagged about 40 Lotus plants this way but since Covid cancelled our fire season I could only find 10 marked plants in all that un-burned foliage.  But ten out of ten Lotus, birdsfoot trefoil, were dead.

Lessons learned:

These casual small scale experiments are fun to do.  They give me comfort knowing my techniques are working.  They are not large scale enough to publish in a journal, but these experiments help me make a pitch to University researchers to do similar studies at scale with a control.

I should have used taller wires so I could find them all.  I only found one in four tags.

Follow up questions I have:

It is subtle, but I think I see a few inches of sparse vegetation around where the Lotus was.  Is that the Garlon 4 vaporizing and killing plants nearby?  Or had the competition of the large Lotus plants thinned nearby plants?  If I had burned the site I could have had a clearer view of the situation.

What if I repeated that experiment using concentrated glyphosate herbicide on just a center spot?

Other questions on foliar spraying come to mind:

What if I sprayed with water based broadleaf herbicide, but only sprayed the middle half of the plant?  Is that enough to kill it?  What about a quarter of the plant?

What if set up a series of tests of various broadleaf herbicides to see which had the best control of Lotus, but also the least off target damage?

Kudos to Mary Vieregg.  The prairie planting where I did this experiment was created in 2008 by volunteer steward, Mary Vieregg.  She and husband Jim picked and planted all the seed, and weeded if for years after.

The Vieregg planting at Clear Creek Knolls of Nachusa Grasslands.

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