PHOTO: USFWS Mountain-Prairie/ CC BY 2.0
June 26, 2012

My 8-acres of forest—planted to oak, black walnut, elm and ash—has filled in with more than its share of cottonwood and box elder. Had I planted my trees in rows, I could have simply mowed the errant seedlings, but my trees were broadcast seeded and grew the old fashioned way: where they wanted. This ruled out mowing.

I had good intentions of walking the acreage and chopping out the cottonwoods or cutting them with my Stihl string trimmer equipped with a blade. I even bought a special attachment for the job. I also bought a device for my ATV to grub out larger saplings.

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Of course, good intentions and a couple of bucks will buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. While I made a few attempts at the job, other projects always had a higher priority. A few years passed, the cottonwoods grew 8 to 10 feet in places, and now cutting them out will be a lot tougher. However, there’s a bright side to the dilemma: My oaks and walnuts, which were pushed to compete, are nearly as tall as the cottonwoods.

Another somewhat positive side effect is that deer damage is insignificant where the cottonwood are thriving. However, where the cottonwood are thriving, oaks and walnut are 2 to 3 feet tall and a substantial number have been chewed down by the local deer herd, as there is little alternative browse.

Sometimes not doing anything is the best course of action. I still have to take down the cottonwood, perhaps with a chainsaw. When I do, those 8-foot-tall walnut and oak will have a much better chance surviving the deer.

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