This is a phrase that might bring the likes of Johnny Cash to some peoples minds. Others may be thinking cowboys out riding their horses along the fence line but for me a city gardener, a want to be farmer, walking the line means walking the boundary of my land (the backyard).
I started this morning, mid-summer, walking the fence line between our neighbors to the south of us and working my way around to the north side where the fence ends. I was on the hunt for young trees, large weeds, unwanted vines and dead branches. This walking the property line needs to happen several times a year or the “forest” begins to take over.
The likes of Elms, Maples and the more invasive Buckthorn, Ash, Mulberry all grow to an amazing height each year. They are planted by squirrels, birds, chipmunks and the wind. They seem so cute and small growing along the fence. Who needs to worry about that little stick growing with a few leaves? Right?!
I have walked by those little guys for years and then one day go out to find I have a full size tree that needs an arborist to cut it down. There are three of those trees on my south side fence line. They are rooted into the neighbors yard so there they remain slowing growing each year pushing the fence to one side.
The Buckthorn and Mulberry will take over in a year or two. These trees push out the lower level plants, and take the water supply from the trees or flowers you want to have growing. It is a battle happening right there in my backyard.
I learned my lesson years ago when I did not walk the line for a few years. I was surprised when I went out one winters day with bright pink ribbons to tag the trees that needed to go. Mind you I don’t have a huge backyard but there were 40 or more little trees (some not to little) that really could not continue to grow in the location that they were in. It was an expensive spring of tree cutting and then months of watching and dabbing growth retardant on the trunks to prevent regrowth.
I have learned my lesson. I walk the line about four times a year. Once in the late winter (February or early March here in Minnesota) when the leaves and lower plants are not visible. It is a great time to tag trees or even cut them if it is not to cold.
I walk again in July during the full growing season. It is easier for me to see what plants are growing when their are leaves on them. I am not good at naming trees by bark. Trees in the fence just need to go no matter what but there are always a few lilacs that are growing that I would prefer to move than cut down. I am nursing three or four small volunteer lilacs knowing my old woody ones are losing vigor and will die one of these days.
I then walk again in the early fall during the garden clean up and again at the beginning of winter. This last walk is looking for branches that might fall in a heavy winter’s snow or one of the wild winter wind storms that surprise us once in awhile.
As I head out each time with garden gloves on, my small red hand clippers in my back left pocket and my larger orange and black tree trimming clippers in hand I can almost image myself a real farmer walking the fence line of my fields. The sun and a bit of wind in my face, the birds singing, blue sky and I am sure all is right with the world.
At least for the few hours I am walking the line.