Monday, February 13, 2017

Random Tree Cutting

I’ve been working on a lot of small management jobs that have been on my list for some time now.  Several of these have to do with trees that are threatening to fall on or to shade out desirable species.  When a tree begins to lean over, the area covered by its shadow increases.  Lateral branches turn upwards and eventually form what amounts to a line of sapling trees growing along the trunk of the leaner.  New growth adds weight that will eventually make the tree fall.  The Wild Black Cherry tree above is not only causing a thinning of grass in the shade zone.  It is overtopping a grove of Redbud and Carolina Buckthorn that will suffer some severe damage if landed upon by the falling tree.

Removing the tree eliminates both the shade hazard and the threat of physical damage to surrounding vegetation.  Unlike most upright trees, leaning trees offer a limited direction toward which they will fall.  Fortunately, a good cut and a little bit of shoving allowed me to drop this tree without damaging any of the shrubs I was trying to protect.

Actually bringing the tree to the ground is usually the least time consuming part of the process.  It’s taking the tree apart and moving it to a brush pile that takes up most of my time.  When I don’t have time to finish the job before days end, as was the case here, I leave the branches in a conspicuous place where I won’t fail to clear them up later.  In this case I left them blocking one of the main trails leading from my house.  There’s no way I can forget about them being here.

Here is another leaning tree, also a Wild Black Cherry.  This species accounts for 90 percent of the leaning trees I encounter.  In this case, the tree is threatening a cluster of oak saplings seen on the right side of the photo.

I didn’t have time to take the whole tree down before it got dark, but I did remove the lateral branches that produced the majority of shade.  If I don’t happen to make it back to this site this winter, the oaks will still be able to receive needed sunlight next growing season.

Some trees are removed just to eliminate the shade they produce.  This Tuliptree was shading the same cluster of oaks being threatened by the leaning cherry.

The oaks in question can be recognized by the dead leaves that they hold into winter.  These persistent leaves make it fairly easy to spot oaks in a grown up field.

With the shade producers removed, the oaks will respond by rapidly increasing their size.  Removed trees were intentionally cut so as to leave a tall stump.  The stumps will be shortened this spring, and herbicide will be applied to the fresh cut.

Removal of this Tuliptree has been on my to do list for several years, but there always seemed to be more urgent activities that kept me from the task.  Tuliptrees are fast qrowing and have the ability to shade out a large area of grass, so it’s best not to let them go for very long.  Notice just to the right of the Tuliptree is a Wild Black Cherry leaning out from the old fence row.  The original tree top has died and a side branch has grown up to produce a nice sized tree.  Eventually, the leaning trunk will not be able to sustain the weight of the new top and the tree will fall.  When it falls, it will most likely hit the Flowering Dogwoods in the center foreground of the photo.  I’ll probably have to take the cherry down before it falls on its own.

I dropped the Tuliptree right on the trail.  There’s no way I could possibly forget to clear it away.

There are some pretty widely spaced growth rings here.  Ten years ago I could have cut this tree with my loppers and carried the whole thing over to the brush pile.  I now aggressively attack the small trees invading the grassland areas, so I won’t have trees of this size to deal with later.

One disassembled tree ready to be carried off.

The trail is once again open for business.

Three Tuliptrees and two cherries were added to this already existing brush pile.  The logs were positioned for maximum use by fence lizards and skinks.  Whether or not I remove more trees this month will depend on the weather.  I’ve already taken care of the worst offenders, but it would be nice to get just a few more.


  1. As I read your post, I kept thinking about the fact that I want to add a tulip tree to my woodland (in hopes of creating a woodland in one section of the yard that is mostly wild black cherry with a few other volunteers). I have added an oak or two to this section as well as a shagbark hickory. More and more, I'm realizing that I need several more trees to create a woodsy area where I can add woodland wildflowers.

    Now, in the upper area where I am trying to establish a native meadow, I am trying to be more vigilant of tree saplings, so as to slow the succession of growth. I have been lax in removing some young multiflora roses that have seeded in--and found that they can bloom and go to seed while pretty young (two or three years, I believe). Early this spring, I will have to comb the grounds and remove these invaders--like you, I have learned how much work is involved once things get out of hand. (To be fair, the first winter we were here, I removed the mother of all of the multiflora roses...and several other rather large monstrosities.

    Here's hoping that I do get a tulip tree or two--and they grow as rapidly as yours has.

    1. Hi, David. My mature Tuliptrees spread tens of thousands of seeds each year. You can almost measure daily growth in the resulting seedlings. If you plant the trees in a suitable location, I'm sure they will do well. Just be prepared to deal with a seedling invasion once your trees begin to flower in ten to fifteen years.

  2. Have you considered leaving some trees as snags (girdling them to prevent regrowth)?

    If you have areas where it is not a danger, perhaps you could try that sometimes. I believe even leaving them 8-15ft tall will still make them appealing to woodpeckers looking for nesting sites.

    Just a thought.

    1. Hi, David. I actually have an abundance of naturally occurring snags scattered about the property. Big trees dying seem to be keeping pace with old snags falling.