In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
July, 2006
Regional Report

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Grinders come in all sizes, and a big tree demands a big machine.

Tree Today, Mulch Tomorrow

If there's a way to turn a mess into something grand, gardeners will try to find it. My back garden has never been a showplace, but after years and storms, it needed serious attention. The hackberry was seriously overgrown, and although it didn't present a falling hazard to anything but other plants and one piece of fencing, it had to go. Since removing any mature tree goes against my grain, I knew I had to make the most of it. Fortunately, my arborist brought a giant wood chipper, and every possible branch, leaf, and stem got shredded. The pile is about the size of a PT Cruiser, and will eventually yield several yards of excellent mulch. The trunks became firewood, and my compost bins happily overflow. Only my checkbook remembers.

Preventing Future Dilemmas
In my case, the hackberry was but a seedling tree a decade ago when I first noticed it growing by the fence. Why I didn't remove it then I'll never know, and soon it was too big for anything but a chainsaw to tackle. By then it was shading one row of the food patch, so I moved the tomatoes and planted parsley and chives to take advantage of the late afternoon cover. Over the years it grew top heavy, and bent badly in roaring winds. The shadow of the tall hackberry loomed large and long over half the space so carefully cultivated in fruit, vegetable, and herb plants. Their performance this spring was nothing to speak of, all because I didn't prevent the tree's growth. If you have a hedgerow, a fence planting, or any area that gets little regular attention, take note: at least once a year, go through with a lopper or small saw, removing woody weeds before they require expensive remedies like mine did.

Defining Hazards
Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against hackberry trees, and truly cherish their role as a host for the hackberry butterfly. (Not as showy as some but always a friendly sight, the butterfly's white spots on brown wings are distinctive.) The hackberry might not have damaged property if it fell, but it was interfering with production in my food garden.

Fortunately, I won't lose the hackberry butterflies since there are two of their host trees on the other side of the garden. Both are upright, and offer needed shade to the perennial border. Just as a weed's definition often depends on where it is growing, the definition of a hazard tree may depend on its location in your garden.


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