So, to answer your first question
The honeysuckles are invasives in that they produce little value (above other plants that would otherwise grow) and also push out native plants. Now, keep in mind, our entire goal here IS EXACTLY TO DISPLACE NATIVE PLANTS. We just want to displace them because we are successioning the land away from them, to the next stage of successionary evolution, but we want to REPLACE THEM WITH NATIVE PLANTS OF THAT STAGE OF EVOLUTION.
So, we want to replace all your nice local honeysuckles with food trees like maples, oaks, walnuts, apples, persimmons, paw paws, etc.
/u/kolfinna mentioned talking to your local extension office, which is definitely a good idea, just keep in mind that depending on the person, you could get someone who understands all this stuff I'm saying, and someone that doesn't. They are generally very good though. What they CAN help you with, if you frame the question correctly, is which native plants should be your END-GOAL. I.e. which native food trees occupy a space in your last-stage succession you are going for.
You are aiming for:
- An overstory tree
- An Understory tree
- Bushes all around those
- Herbaceous layer where possible in natural glades, and also on the edges
- Groundcover where possible, in glades and on the edges
- Root crops
- Vines growing up it all
These are the 7 layers of the forest. Now, inside those layers, we have plants that fulfill many functions. The main functions we need are:
- Nitrogen building. There should be 1 or 2 nitrogen fixers in that guild. And I don't mean individual plants, I mean you could have Oak overstory, 4 apple understory, seabuckthorn brush layer (10 of them), strawberries, mint, sage, thyme, asparagus, dill (herbaceous layer), strawberries and clover (the second N-fixer) as groundcover, jerusalem artichokes, carrots, sweet potato (ground cover, and SP vine), peas, beans as vines for now (until trees get older). That's one guild, ONE overstory plant. That's good for a 20 foot by 20 foot plot. Now make another in the next plot over. THen another in the next one over. Maybe this time it's a cherry overstory, paw paw understory, blueberry bushes, goumi berry N fixer berry bush, etc... Diversity, diversity diversity.
More on nitrogen fixers
These are local native plants from the legume family, or other nitrogen fixers. Autumn Olive is one of these. Here are more. Your system should contain many of these, especially as you get started. These are chop and dropped as sacrificial soil builders, because as they are cut, the roots die back and the nitrogen nodules are released as slow release fertilizer to surrounding plants. It's the chopping and dropping aspect which is going to build your soil. There are nitrogen plants in most categories... Trees (Black locust, Siberian pea tree), Bush (autumn olive, seabuckthorn), Vine (pea, bean), Herbaceous layer (lupines), groundcover (clover), etc.
More functions in your guilds
-Deep taprooted nutrient accumulators. These are going to be the second sacrificial plant that we add, and the goal here is to drive a deep taproot WAAAAAY down, like 20-50 feet down, and dredge and mine up nutrients that would otherwise slowly sink into the earths center. These are mined up through the deep taproot, the plant puts them in the leaf, and then we come by and step on them, chop them, drop them and return those nutrients to the topsoil for the rest of the system to feed on. The funny thing is, most deep taprooted nutrient accumulators are also often mislabeled as weeds!!! This is how stupid humans are. These are plants who want to do nothing else but rebuild fertility, and we label them as something that should be eradicated. Stuff like Dandelion, comfrey (a permaculture favorite), mullein, etc. If it has large leaves (lots of biomass to drop down) and a deep taproot, then it's a solid choice. Combine that with a deep taproot, so that it's not competing for nutrients with the plants we're surrounding it with (trees and bushes). This way, this plant is dredging deep below, and not impacting and stealing nutrient from it's neighbours. Honestly, get some comfrey and call it a day. This plant is unbelievable. Look for the sterile version called bocking-14 (bocking, not blocking), this way it only will exist where you plant it, or dig it up, divide it by root cuttings and replant it.
- Herbaceous pollinator attractors - these are common herbs or other plants which attract insect predators. Stuff like queen anne's lace, thyme, dill, rosemary, sage, marigolds, milkweed, lovage, etc.
- Insect aromatic confusers - these are often similar to beneficial insect attractors, but many herbs can mask the smell of plants we are putting in, like Anise Hyssop, garlic, dill, asparagus planted right next to a peach tree to protect it from pests. They won't be able to smell the peach, because they are surrounded by mint, etc.
Transitioning your land
The stages of succession transition from Dead soil (bare or compacted soil) to bacterial dominated (grasslands) to fungal dominated (forest).
We start out by identifying where our land currently is in the stage of succession, and we also need to understand that the moment we disturb the soil, we instantly revert back to stage 1. So if you clear your land and grade it, you just went back to weed infested bare dirt.
It sounds like you are likely in an early brushland if you have stuff like Autumn Olive being considered a nuissance. So I would suggest leaving all the autumn olive up, clearing out the honeysuckle - but in a non-disturbance way... you want to chop it ground level, leave all the roots and stump in the ground. It's going to sucker like mad, you just chop the suckers as they come, once a year or more often if you want. You can drop those down, chip them up, use them as your browns in compost, whatever. They do have a chemical signture, so depending on how many you have compared to your landmass, you may want to compost them first. I have one honeysuckle (it was 12 feet tall and 20 feet wide, an absolute unit) and I chipped it up and spread it around everywhere. It suckered like crazy year one, and I just used that biomass to feed all the trees and bushes I planted in it's place.
Building fungal component
Try to source free carbon. Call arborists for free woodchips. See if there is a municipal "community woodchip pile" that you can take from. Often arborists have to pay to get rid of these, and they are more than happy to dump loads off at your house. Spread these out all over the place, and start connecting the fungal mat that will hold your system together, balance your chemistry, open up communication pathways for plants to plants, and act as water collection drip edge extension for every plant in your system. Fungus is the critical linchpin in all of life on earth, and our goal is to transition the land towards forests as fast as possible, which means, building fungal component of soils as soon as possible.
How to do all this stuff? Like how to ACTUALLY DO it.
My Youtube Channel
I'm linking my youtube channel because I have guides on how to do this... how to sheet mulch (grass to garden guide), how to compost, how to do everything you need. How to make a 1000 year soil amendment called biochar, which replicates forest burns. How to innoculate the biochar, and the science behind the biochar. You don't need to do any of this stuff, but I believe that a little extra work upfront, if it reduces work down the road is well worth it. My personal goal when transitioning my land is that every minute of time I put into this should be optimized such that I'm not creating systems of inputs down the road. I'm setting up my systems such that nature will take over and do most of the work for me.
As you walk your land, as you pull an peach off your tree, you chop some comfrey and throw it down. You prune back your nitrogen fixers a few times a year. You prune fruit trees to open up light, and promote healthy trees. As you do all this stuff, it all gets dropped back down on the ground to feed the soil, build the soil food web, transition further and further each day into a fungal dominated forest.