Keeping Your Fields Tree-Free

With the right tools, you can preserve the open spaces of your farm from forest encroachment.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson

When people think of weeds, they tend to think of thistle plants, invasive species and such, but because the definition of a weed is “a plant growing where it’s not wanted,” it’s possible for any plant to be considered a weed. And believe it or not, if you live on a farm, that can include even the best of trees.

Speaking from personal experience, I know that trees can be troublesome. If you have fields that border a forest or even just a tree line, it’s only a matter of time before seedling trees start popping up on the edges of your fields. Over time, more and more seedlings will gain a foothold and start a steady, stealthy advance across your fields, reducing the amount of space for your crops, as well as hiding the beautiful mature trees behind an unattractive wall of seedlings and saplings. That’s why you’ll want to work diligently to keep your fields tree-free.

The Tools You’ll Need

Having spent more time than I care to count waging the war against encroaching trees, I’ve experimented with using many different tools and techniques for keeping them under control and have finally settled into a rhythm that is fairly simple and straightforward.

To determine the best way to approach the job, you have to know the size of the trees you’re dealing with. Tiny sapling trees that are only a year or two old can easily be handled with a tractor-pulled mower or even a large lawnmower, but if they’re any larger, you’ll need to cut them by hand close to the ground so that you won’t leave behind sharp, ragged stumps. A pair of pruning shears will do a fantastic job, but don’t skimp on size—get a large, strong, powerful pair that will last a long time and cut through just about anything you might encounter. Weight is also a consideration, as heavy pruning shears can get tiresome to handle. A lighter pair will help save your strength.

Maintaining Cleared Fields

If the trees you’re cutting are several feet tall, it can be helpful to work from the mature trees outward, since the young trees will be leaning away from the large trees and won’t have as many branches on that side, making them easier to cut.

Once you’ve got the trees cleared, you might think that the job is done, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. Hardwood trees can sprout new growth from their roots, sometimes in an incredibly vigorous manner, and within weeks you might find that the trees are coming back thicker than ever.

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When this happens, it’s time to bring in heavy machinery! A regular lawnmower or a hand-pushed mower will easily eat through the thin, delicate stems of the fresh growth and will get close enough to the ground that it won’t leave behind any stems. A hand-pushed mower can be particularly useful since you can get in between and very close to the larger trees.

The trees will attempt to come back for a few more times, but if you keep your eyes open and mow them down as soon as they start to sprout, they will eventually run out of energy and go away for good, keeping your field edges under control and as beautiful as ever.

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