Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Trimming trees

We have a gnarled overgrown grove of black hawthorn on our property, right next to the road.

It's the only grove of trees in this field and (in theory) will offer a superb patch of shade when we get livestock. However it was so heavy with dead and low-hanging branches as to be almost unusable.

Black hawthorn is well named; they have vicious one-inch thorns, something you really don't want slapping you in the face.

It was clear someone before us had made some attempt to thin this grove and bring it under control, but for whatever reason they stopped only a fraction of the way through. As a result, we had downed branches on the ground as well as endless deadwood in the trees themselves. Coupled with the rockiness of the ground, it was a formidable mess.

We have a county program coming in sometime during March to thin some underbrush (for fire-control purposes), and the county representative who walked through the property with us said if we wanted to trim the hawthorn grove and pile the branches to one side, the county workers would chip the pile. That was all the motivation I needed to arm myself with a variety of saws and nippers. Time to get cutting!

I don't know what spirit of optimism made me think I could get the whole thing done in a couple of days, but let me tell you, it didn't work that way. Each gnarled tree was such a tangle of living and dead wood that I had to carefully excise what needed to be trimmed and what didn't.

But hawthorn wood is gorgeous. Look at those colors! (Don ended up taking chunks of some of the larger branches back to the shop to play with later on.)

A few of the dead branches I removed were so heavy that the best way to pull them out of the grove (without stumbling over the rocks or getting slapped in the face with other branches) was to drag them out with a rope.

I tried to keep the twistiness of the trees intact while trimming away deadwood. The more I worked in this grove, the more charmed I was by its organic qualities.

I debated taking this branch off at all, despite the fact that the dead portion was dragging the ground. I mean, it has such character, doesn't it? Besides, it had a living branch growing upright which I didn't want to get rid of.

I ended up cutting the dead portion off while leaving the live portion intact. It hangs low, but not slap-in-the-face low; and it preserves the character, I think.

Some of the dead or broken branches were way too high for me to reach. I finally got a stepstool and a long-handled arborists saw (which we bought at a yard sale) which helped a lot – and was also much safer. I didn't want any thorn-filled branches falling on top my head.

It took me about two weeks of hard labor (working when weather permitted) to get everything done, but the results were splendid. When spring comes and the leaves fill out, it should be a lovely spot.

Here's the view from the road. Looks like nothing, doesn't it? Certainly it doesn't look like it should have taken me two weeks to complete. (That's an old magpie nest in the branches.)

The pile of deadwood destined for chipping is certainly formidable.

There are still a lot of branches on the ground in the grove, but I plan to conscript both Don and Older Daughter in helping drag them to the slash pile.

Meanwhile it was time to yank thorns out of the bottoms of my shoes...

...and clean up all the flesh wounds.

Another project, done.


  1. You used a chainsaw, right? Please tell me you used a chainsaw too... That's a big time saver!

    1. Nope. Handsaws, all the way.

      - Patrice

  2. We have black locust trees here and they have vicious thorns. Some are up to 5" long! I have had the bigger ones cut down but they seem to spread by roots as well as seeds. Really nasty pieces of work!

  3. The bushes I trim aren't anything compared to those thorns. But my arms always come out looking like I've been clawed by a lion. Long sleeves-thank you.

  4. I guess we're on the same page. I've slowly been doing the same thing the last couple of weeks. Not the same type of wood but just so many areas need thinning junk out. No such luck from our county though. I have to break it all down and burn it.
    I have a small battery operated chainsaw that's fun to use except for the pain in my hands. A little work and my old hands are useless for a couple of days. But it is so enjoyable to see the improvements. And I'm thinking of making some hand wraps that can be soaked in Epsom salt solution then used while watching TV. Can't figure out a way to get comfortable to soak them otherwise.
    Things are really shaping up at yall's place. Can't wait to see and hear about your long awaited and planned for cows.

  5. Amazing job Patrice. We just had to cut down and into smaller pieces and my hands were a mess - I should wear gloves for cutting, but I find they dull my ability to feel how things are going.

  6. Could the cows get thorns in their feet walking over those wicked thorns? Or in their bodies if they try to lie in the shade on a hot day?

  7. My husband bought a pair of arm chaps. They worked so well he bought me a pair (so I could share in the chores) lol

  8. Why not cut all the pieces to 16" and burn them in your stove? I acknowledge that they aren't nice easy to use "chunks" of wood but as a hardwood it is a good burning wood.

  9. Heads up! Snakes are out roving around here in Alabama, so keep your eyes peeled! My pets had one " playing" with it and killed it. Yet again I had to look up the bands to see if it was a King snake or deadly Coral snake. It was a King snake. There are rhymes...Red touches yellow will kill a fellow. Red touches black, safe for Jack. Yellow touches red, soon you'll be dead. They are pencil thin and only grow 12 to 18 inches long.
    Then yesterday walking, there was a small moccasin dead in the road. Not squashed flat from a car. Nope, again he had a puncture wound. My pets at work. This one looked like a rattlesnake, only darker, with the same triangular head but no rattles or even a nub on the tail. It had similar markings to rattlers. Head wasn't copper.
    Anyway, the weather everywhere has been so crazy. Way too much rain, and sub zero temps even here in the south, followed up by record breaking highs. Rinse and repeat.
    Be careful as you are spring cleaning your places, even if your garden is just flower pots in a town. I've found baby snakes in flower pots, in insulation placed around spigots for cold weather when taking it off the following spring, and yes, underfoot. Literally put my walking stick on the head of a baby and killed it unknowingly (thank God!) walking in the yard before the first mowing of the season. The grass was not high at all. So stay vigilant, and Happy Spring!

  10. Is there a Hawthorn wood mug in my future Patrice?