Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Love-Hate In The Garden

Being an easy-going guy, I may have opinions about things in the garden, but seldom get emotional enough to have strong feelings about anything. The black cherry trees (Prunus serotina) may be an exception. We lost all the elm trees in our woods due to Dutch elm disease, leaving us with a limited selection of large canopy trees; a few nice oaks, a couple of ashes, and lots of black cherry trees... the cherries are 60-70 feet tall now. As trees, the black cherries certainly have enough striking pluses and minuses to evoke an emotional response in a gardener that haves to live with them. They are fairly attractive, with tall, straight trunks with dark, layered bark that has been compared with burnt potato chips. The broad, high canopies are favorites of many canopy birds like orioles and vireos, and they are covered in the spring with flower clusters that perfume the whole garden, then rain their tiny flowers down like confetti. If you scratch a new twig, it smells of almonds. The wood of these trees is a lovely red; most cherry cabinet wood in fact comes from the black cherry.
However... black cherries are fairly short-lived for large hardwoods, apparently because their limbs are prone to break off (not an ideal quality when a hopeful gardener has planted hundreds of dollars worth of azaleas underneath). The broken limbs allow fungus to invade the tree, and they begin to die, dropping even more missile-limbs in the process. I can begin to see the handwriting on the wall, that just as the garden matures, I am going to start losing the canopy trees, which will wreak havoc with my bank account and my garden. Perhaps the least endearing trait of Prunus serotina is the annual barrage of fruit that it drops; on sidewalks, cars... and on hapless gardens. On a windy day, walking about the garden is somewhat like being in a large popcorn popper, as these somewhat hard little fruits drop by the hundreds, each with a little popping sound when they hit the ground. They form almost a solid, sticky ground covering; the whole garden on a hot day smells like a winery, as the cherries ferment in a gooey carpet that sticks to your shoes and can cause you even to slip and fall if you move suddenly. It seems as if every last one of these little cherries then germinates, leaving you with drifts of thousands of little cherry trees in every flower bed.
But then... today as I was walking about the garden, admittedly redolent of rotting fruit, I looked up and saw all the black cherry trees literally alive with vireos, gorging on the cherries, flitting (as vireos do) constantly from limb to limb. Every vireo from miles about must have been in our garden; especially red-eyed vireos that delight me in the spring and early summer with their constant refrain... Look up-see me-here I am-over here! They are called the preacher bird because of the persistence of their call, and our woodland garden would be much poorer if the vireos left. The black cherries can stay, but it's a sticky relationship.
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Someone else actually knows what a black cherry tree is????? I have a large one on the lot line of my yard, every time I describe it I am met with blank stares. I love the smell of the flowers in the spring and as you mentioned it is always alive with birds for about 6 to 8 weeks this time of the year. The tree is actually on my neighbor's lot but I have a clear view of it for bird watching from my patio, I have kept my fingers crossed for years that they did not decide to cut it down. I have never seen the black cherry tree listed in any catalog, have you?
Maybe you could proactively manage the tree canopy? Take out a few selected black cherries and replace them with other tree species, so that you don't eliminate the tree canopy, but diversify it?
We removed the three wild cherry tress in our yard because the trees were growing in a contorted fashion and there were many dead limbs. Kept dropping many fruit too which to this day 6 years later, I still see small trees sprouting. We had the stumps ground up and the tree cutter even ground up a larger area than he normally would do but I noticed the roots were still viable 2-3 year later when I dug to plant other trees. My brother-in-law who's a wood worker was happy to get a couple of good sized logs though. The wood turned out to be very beautiful.
IGW... I've never seen black cherries in a catalogue either; if you want about ten thousand seedling cherry trees, stop down next spring.
Kathy... I am in fact going to do that, but because our garden lies in a south facing bowl like valley (with for example 90 degree temperatures for three weeks in a row now), losing even a couple of our canopy trees means everything around that area cooks.

Ki... the black cherry wood really is beautiful; very red.
WOW! No pun intended but thats really the pits. What a messy tree. At least you can enjoy those Vireos.
all the best to you, BOB
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