Home Is Where Your Trees Are

A Clearing In The Wildwood. Part 2

In deciding which trees to retain and feature in your new grounds, be practical. Some softwoods like silver maple, the willows, and poplars make a pretty show, but are shortlived. If they do not interfere with hardier species, well and good. Otherwise give preference to more durable stand-bys - the oaks, beech, ash, sugar maple, tupelo, honey locust, sassafras, shagbark hickory (but not the smoothbark, or pignut, which has small character). Sycamore, sweet gum, horse chestnut, and black walnut are all hardy species, but you will like them better away from your house than near it. They drop fruits that can be bothersome underfoot. All flowering trees you will favor as a matter of course-dogwood, redbud, hawthorn, shadblow, and any of the wild-grown fruits like apple, pear, and cherry (but not chokecherry, in which tent caterpillars spawn). Locust and catalpa are attractive in flower but are better kept toward the property's edges for they are shedders too, the one of deadwood, the other of elephant-ear leaves and trashy bean pods. Lindens (basswood) and mulberries are more welcome: they bring bees and birds, respectively. So are the paper and gray birches: their graceful white stems are like dancing girls.

The soft maples - silver, Norway, boxelder, and sycamore - present problems. All the maples cast grateful shade with their broad leaves, but these four kinds are brittle, hence hazardous. They tend to overgrow, and their resistance to ants, borers, and decay is low. Nothing is more lovely than a feature elm, standing off by itself so that its palmate or lyre shape and spread can be fully appreciated. Nothing could be more trouble, either. If there is any Dutch elm disease in the vicinity - and there probably is nowadays - you will never know from one year to the next when your tree may be attacked by it. Spraying, feeding, and pruning out the deadwood are imperative safeguards, and not cheap for any elm large enough to deserve them. If your grounds contain no rapturous old elms, perhaps you are not exactly to be envied, but over your head will hang no season of heartbreak. If your grounds contain young elms competing with sounder species, blaze them first of all when you mark your grove for thinning.

Wherever evergreens stand behind birches or white-flowering species like dogwood, consider yourself blessed by Nature. The contrasting effect is one for which tree-scrapers strive. Among the evergreens that you may find in your wildwood, commonest will be the cedars, spruces, white pines, and hemlocks with maybe some firs in northern latitudes. All these are hardy varieties but should not, just by that token, be taken too much for granted. Evergreens are more easily replaced than most deciduous trees, but not in the large sizes that show the best and give grounds grandeur even in winter. So check the health of your needly old-timers as carefully as you do the rest. Their greenness when other trees are bare can be deceptive. But if large evergreens stand close to where the house is to go, have this in mind: their shade can be as gloomy in winter as it is cooling in summer. When you mark your trees for thinning, take a leaf from the Stout study of forest root systems. Remember that, in a wild grove, each tree has been competing with three or four of its neighbors for nourishment and light. The trees you wish to keep can use all the elbow-room you will give them. Shade-grown trees tend to be spindly, but given air space and root room they can fill out almost like field-grown specimens.

Spare the saw and spoil your specimens. As they are spaced, so will they flourish. When your thinning is undertaken, don't let the bulldozer do it. That blade, those heavy treads, will do more underground damage than you know when they knock the marked trees over and push away the stumps. Do it or have it done by ax and chain saw. Cut the stumps flush to the ground, where they will rot away soon enough. You can speed their dissolution by boring holes and putting in saltpeter or waste crankcase oil and then burning them out. If you are in no hurry to get your final effect, your thinning can be done piecemeal, and often it is better done so. You will not have to find shelter for all the firelogs at once, or burning space for all the brush. If you girdle (ring-cut) one year the trees you plan to take out the next, you can be just as sure of an immediate root-kill - to unshade wanted trees - as if you felled the trees at once. Also, you can thus season your firewood right on the stump instead of having to stack it, which rots the bottom logs. Vines growing wild on trees will strangle or smother them eventually. Cut them at their roots and they will fall away in time. Not harmful are morning glory, an annual, and trumpet creeper, which climbs free, without throttling, and whose deep-necked blooms the hummingbirds love. If you value the trees you find them on, show no mercy to wild grape, honeysuckle, woodbine, poison ivy, or wisteria (which you can cut back partially and then train to a support all its own).

The evergreen ivies - English, American, Boston - are decorative on tree trunks but should not be allowed to grow much above the first main crotch. An advantage that woods-grown trees have over their cousins in fields and lawns is that they were nourished from infancy by leaf mold, which is organic. Remember this when you decide about lawning around your selected trees. They will appreciate your not raking away all their fallen leaves every autumn. Lots of people let their power mowers chop the leaves into mulch and leave it lying to benefit grass and trees alike. If you are going to insist on raking, have the bulldozer do one last thing for you before it departs: scoop out a leaf pit, like a small trench silo about 8'X5'X4', off in some corner where your annual leaf harvest can be dumped to rot and disintegrate for use another year. If you have oaks, try to save their leaves separately. Any broad-leaved evergreens you may want to cultivate, especially hollies, will thrive on oak-leaf mulch, which is strongly acid.