Today’s article is an editorial comment rather than a typical lawn and garden article. Often in life, we get the feeling we are pounding our heads against a rock wall and today’s topic will expound on a call to ban all “weed-eaters or string trimmers or devices used to maim and kill trees.”

Nationally, we spend millions of dollars each year to plant trees and shrubs intended to improve personal, business, city, county and community properties. How is it then that with the push to plant trees there is so little emphasis on using proper techniques with tools that can damage and even kill valuable landscape plants?

Why is it I have a bee in my bonnet? More like a hornet’s nest. A short review of my photos taken in the past 10 years reveals a consistent set of photos that trace a trend of careless use of these dangerous machines during this time. It’s a national problem too. I have photos as far north as Michigan and south to Florida, west to the Mississippi River and east to the coast of South Carolina. These are limits set because I haven’t traveled farther than these boundaries in the past five years.

I would place a bet that 100 percent of people who have used weed-eaters near trees for any amount of time have damaged trees or shrubs. Even skilled and experienced machine operators, such as yours truly, get in a hurry, take risks and sooner or later nick a tree or shrub with the string of these whirling machines.

Let’s time travel to “before weed-eaters” — which is really not that long ago. The widespread use of the various types of weed-eaters only goes back 35-40 years. Fresh out of college, I was introduced to the machines for weed management in orchards in the mid-’70s. My supervisor at the time quickly soured on their use because of frequent damage inflicted to young, thin-barked trees. Frank quickly assessed the problem with the machines (or their operators) and to paraphrase “when you get a weed-eater in your hands, it makes you lazy, your back no longer bends and you forget that a tree is a living plant.”

Harsh words, but it is a great assessment of human and machine interaction. No one enjoys pulling weeds by hand so the euphoria of less back-breaking work quickly turns to bold use of the machine, rather than a careful approach to removing grass and weeds near trees and shrubs. I’ve seen evidence where someone stripped the (living) bark from a tree killing it, rather than bend over and pull that last stubborn sprig of grass next to the stem.

Since we really can’t ban weed-eaters how can we reduce damage?

Training and understanding of tree biology for any operator (plus close supervision)

Hand-pull grass and weeds within 2 inches of the stems of trees and shrubs

Use mulch and appropriate herbicides to reduce weedy vegetation around trees

Especially, stay away from young, thin-barked trees easily damaged

Use extreme care in spring when growing bark damages easier

Do not let operators use the machines to beat the sprouts off crape myrtles while they damage the tree trunks

If you have other questions or need bulletins or information, stop by our office on East Cambridge Avenue or call us at 864-223-3264.

Plant festival

Spring Plant Festival Uptown Market — April 13

Spring Plant Festival County Farmers Market — April 12 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and April 13 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Clemson Extension will have a booth.

The Greenwood Farmers Market opens at 7 a.m. June 1 next to Civic Center.

James Hodges is a Clemson Extension agent in Greenwood County. He can be reached at 864-223-3264.