May 6, 2008

Hacking away at the Hackberries

When we first acquired this property, many moons ago, it sported one dogwood, a handful of "builder shrubs" (ugly, ill-placed junipers we promptly removed), and a vast empty expanse of grass. I've since spent many a happy hour double-digging beds, planting trees, shrubs, and so on, and it's a shady green oasis now. But those first few years I was very grateful for the wild hackberry trees that edged the yard, where it met the woods. To paraphrase the old blues song, if it wasn't for hackberries, I wouldn't have had no trees at all.

And I'm still happy for them. Although it's widely considered a "trash" tree, a derogatory term used for species without a lot of commercial value, it's an attractive and adaptable tree, and its berries provide food for wildlife. That same wildlife also distributes the seeds very effectively, and I spend a lot of time pulling hackberry seedlings in the garden beds.

They do not give up the fight easily. Even the smallest seedling establishes a long and tenacious taproot that a gentle tug will not dislodge. This is a job that involves digging, sometimes a lot of it, and bad language. And even though I have a sharp eye for this kind of thing, they have the ability to blend in with other foliage and grow heartily before they are noticed. They also tend to grow smack dab in the middle of a shrub, were I can't dig them out, and have to resort to repeated pruning to try and starve them out. Below is shot of one growing in an emerging patch of monarda, where it stands out a bit, but removing it will still be an endeavor.

I'm not really grousing. Digging up hackberry seedlings gives me healthful outdoor exercise, and keeps me off the streets. I admire the hackberries for their energy and enthusiasm, and a few years ago made a postcard-sized piece to pay tribute:

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