A December project


I am not typically anxious to undertake projects in the cold of December, but recently I discovered an invasive bittersweet vine invading the tree tops of a grove of wild mulberries that lurks in the thicket beside the garden. If the vine was not eliminated it would have easily hopped over to the nearby ‘Elizabeth’ magnolia in the spring, and there would have been a larger problem in removing it.Oriental bittersweet

The colony of mulberries leaned from the tangle of brush and brambles over into the garden so that the magnolia also arched slightly to reach more sunlight, and so it was inevitable that eventually the mulberries must go. With the immediate issue of the bittersweet vine I was convinced that my usual procrastination would be impractical. With many garden chores I’ve found that if ignored long enough the need goes away, but it was apparent this would not be the case with the invasive vine.

The thicket was such a mass of seedling trunks, brambles, and vines that it was impossible to tell which one or ones were the bittersweet, so my only choice was to chop the mulberries down and then to cut out the vine.  I’ve had to remove several trees over the past year due to storm damage, and all were easily cut into sections and stacked to be burned in the fire pit. The tangle of mulberry and bittersweet was not so easily removed.

There were a handful of trunks that could be identified as mulberries, and several other unidentifiable smaller trees with vines as thick as your wrist weaving throughout. The tangle made it necessary to cut each trunk into multiple pieces and then to cut away large branches so that any part would fall to the ground. Once the web of branches and vines had fallen the saw and pruners were used to cut sections into manageable pieces. These have been hauled and stacked nearby, so that the mess can be burned out from under the canopy of the ‘Elizabeth’ and Bigleaf magnolias (below). Even cut into sections the tangle of vines and branches is too difficult to move any further.

There was remarkably little injury resulting from this project. I expected cuts and scratches (and considerable blood), but the bittersweet vine has blunt thorns that are barely a bother, and fortunately there were few thorny brambles in this part of the thicket .Bigleaf magnolia

Now that the mulberries and vines have been chopped off there is a void in the thicket, and in this garden a void is quickly filled. I will exercise some patience because I know that the mulberries and vines will pop up again from the roots in the spring, but this growth will be more easily controlled than vines climbing through the tops of trees. As I do, I’ve begun to consider alternatives for this space. It will be partially shaded, and trees must be vigorous to crowd the inevitable competition from the thicket. Also, deer nestle in this space through the spring and summer, so resistance is a requirement.Sweetbay magnolia

The shrub like Sweetbay magnolia (above) will work well in this spot, and since there are two neighboring magnolias I suppose it is somehow appropriate to add a third. These are vastly different trees, so there is no danger in confusing one with another. I’ve considered planting a sweetbay for years, but there wasn’t an appropriate spot until now. So, this will be a start, then there will be the need for a few shrubs that will tolerate the thicket, shade, and the deer. With a garden that is maturing and nearly overflowing, I welcome the opportunity to plant.

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