Assisted Natural Reforestation at Modern Harvest, SC

These fields were pasture 10 years ago; since then regeneration has been occurring naturally.  Wind, wildlife and bordering mature trees all deliver seed to the site.  The fields are in late meadow to early forest stages of succession, with:
  • pioneer trees (sweetgum, sumac, pear, persimmon, pine), 
  • vines (greenbriar, honeysuckle, poison ivy, muscodine grape, passionfruit), 
  • forbes (goldenrod, dog fennel, dandelion, wingstem, pokeweed) and grasses,
  • blackberry. 
  • Also, trees of timber/produce value (pecan, cedar, walnut and oak) slowly establishing in sheltered areas.  
Pura Vida Conservation Assisted Natural Regeneration reforestation persimmon fruit
Our goal is to assist the forest's natural regeneration.  We can steer it towards specific economic and ecological objectives, like nut/fruit/timber production, wildlife habitat, soil building and carbon sequestration, using the following strategies.

1.  Assisting specific trees.  We can help a sweetgum grow through a blackberry patch, for example, or help a pecan grow through a sweetgum thicket, to accelerate natural succession and favor valuable trees.  Mulching can boost their growth by retaining more moisture and feeding decomposers that enrich soil.  Also clearing a five foot radius around them temporarily "releases" them from soil, water and light competition, to borrow a USFS phrase, as well as add organic matter to the soil.

2. Encouraging natural regeneration.  To reduce our own labor, we can recruit seed dispersers to start forests for us.  We can attract them by installing water features, brush piles, burrows, bird feeders or bird houses; or by ensuring diverse habitat, like a blackberry patch where critters take shelter, or a lone "nuclear" tree where birds perch.  Understanding which trees are spread by which animals, and which habitats those animals require, can help planning this strategy.

3. Focus on strategic areas.  Young, vulnerable trees are more likely to survive and thrive near mature trees, who not only seeded them, but will continue to protect them from extreme weather and enrich the soil around them with leaf litter.  Therefore, starting near an existing forest (like along a stream or property line) and working outwards is the most efficient use of our labor.  Far easier than, for example, planting trees ourselves in an open field, which may require years of maintenance on top of the initial costs of raising and transplanting nursery stock, and which may be more likely to fail.

4. Map and survey project site. should be the first step in planning all of the above strategies.  See how we mapped this site at Reforestation: Mapping

5. Encourage wildlife habitat.
Attracting Seed dispersers To reduce labor and cost, recruit wildlife to spread seed for reforestation, by:
  • Providing food/water - Bird baths, water features, plant selection (fruit/nut trees for birds and mammals, wildflowers for bees and humingbirds) all attract wildlife, as do; 
  • Creating habitat – brush piles, fallen logs, snags, burrows, ponds, bird houses, bee hives, and; 
  • Ensuring diversity – more variations in plant species, vegetation structure, topography microclimate means greater diversity in wildlife.

assisted natural regeneration reforestation seed pines oaks

Above, adjacent to the project site are suppliers of seedlings: mature white pine, willow oak, sugar maple and pecan.  Below, before and after pictures of clearing around three sweetgum and a pecan.

assisted natural regeneration reforestation clearing tree cedar sweetgum

Above, a crowded sweetgum.  Below, a freed sweetgum, a cedar and a barn.

assisted natural regeneration reforestation clearing tree cedar sweetgum

Plant Survey
Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) - USDA Sweetgum Fact Sheet
  • Uses - Erosion control, wildlife (seed for birds, squirrels, and chipmunks), timber (veneer, plywood, railroad ties, fuel and pulpwood), recreation and beautification
  • Management - "Young trees are able to withstand crowding, however, they become intolerant to competition with increasing age. Removal of overstory trees results in rapid growth of young sweetgum trees.

Persimmon  (Diospryos virginiana) - USDA Persimmon Fact Sheet
  • Uses - Edible fruits, wildlife (squirrel, deer, coyote, raccoon, birds), timber (golf club heads, veneer), medicine (fever diarrhea and hemmorrhage), ornamental
  • Management - Tolerates hot, dry and poor soils, pioneer on abandoned pastures, forms thickets from suckers.

Pura Vida Conservation Assisted Natural Regeneration reforestation clearing trees machete

sumac tea fruit assisted natural regeneration reforestation

Modern Harvest LLC
Woodruff, SC
USDA zone 7b (5-10F min temp.)

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See Guides on Mapping, Soil Testing, and Identifying Trees


  1. Other than just being a habitat for animals, forest produce a good cover for our environment shading us from strong wings and acting as a source of livelihood for our communities everyone should play a part in conservation.

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