The lone voice of horticultural reason

Don’t circle trees with stuff.

I don’t know where this practice started, the Midwest I suppose, perhaps Hopkins, or Edina. People see that tree out in their yard and they just can’t leave well enough alone.

I imagine some think they are engaging in some form of landscaping, and in fact they are. Bad landscaping, landscaping that says, “This individual tree is thought of so little as being a part of any whole that I’m going to give it a silly, frilly little skirt to make it really stand out and look bad.”

And people circle them with such amazing assortments of stuff! In Minnesota, circling with bricks left over from that patio job that went south is big, a single layer for the new gardener, maybe a triple layer for the assured do-it-yourselfer. Then there’s that curved, reddish concrete edging that makes little tombstones all around your tree, that is sold to this day AND IS DESIGNED TO SERVE THIS PURPOSE, something I find astonishing.

Of course you’ll see concrete retaining wall block used in this manner. Does it say anything about how ludicrous is this practice that even a tree circled with natural stone block, or field stone, also looks ridiculous?

The classic is the tree, usually a vastly mature oak, circled with hosta. I’m sorry I don’t have a picture, the hosta weren’t up when I was out shooting the photos, but you know what I mean. You have this majestic, seventy-foot oak, king of the forest, lord of all trees, forced to endure the indignity of wearing a circus clown’s collar, a little girl’s teeny tutu, I used to be something, I used to be grand, now look at me, look at me.

If a mature tree is growing from your lawn, let it grow straight out of the lawn. Grass looks great growing right up to the shoulder roots of a tree. If a newer planting, you’ll want to circle it with shredded bark until a solid root system is established, then ditch the bark after five years. Best of all, make a tree a part of the landscape, the focal point of, well, a point, a swooping, jutting point of landscaping that starts at the house and extends out and around the tree.

If you’re going to circle something, circle a date on your calendar when you will go out into your yard, and set your trees free.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener