Cutting Older Shrubs

When shrubs get too old, they get “leggy,” spindly and sparse, and their habitat value to wildlife lessens. Low-impact machines with mulching or mowing heads can chew down older shrubs such as alder, dogwood, willow, or hawthorn, which causes them to grow back more densely. Machines do this work quickly and efficiently, but it’s also possible for individuals to cut back trees and shrubs using a chainsaw. Mowing or cutting shrubs in winter, when the plants hold their energy in their root systems, spurs abundant, vigorous regrowth the following spring.


Cut or mow shrubs in winter to promote regrowth the following spring./J. Holtz

Mowing or cutting stimulates shrubs to send up copious new shoots. Not only are those woody plants rejuvenated, but a whole suite of ground plants fills in the spaces between them, such as wild strawberry, milkweed, bergamot, clover, and plantain. Stands of dense shrubs provide great habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock, songbirds, New England cottontail rabbits, moose, black racer snakes, wood turtles, and many other animals.

For more information, see Managing Shrublands and Old Fields in Managing Grasslands, Shrublands and Young Forest Habitats for Wildlife.

To develop and carry out a plan for refreshing shrub habitats, consult with a wildlife biologist or natural resource professional. These contacts can provide help. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS, offers advice and funding to private landowners who want to make young forest for wildlife.

A wide range of conservation partners have created habitat demonstration areas where people can go see young forest and view the wildlife that these areas readily attract.