My Version of a Crop Circle

I was trying to hold up my end of a conversation a few days ago, and mentioned that I’d put a mowing ring around a tree in front of the house. I was surprised when nobody else on that particular patio knew what I was talking about.

For the uninitiated, a mowing ring is a more-or-less circular clearing around the base of a tree to make it easy to get a lawn mower around it.

Some people add mulch, but every tree-care article I’ve ever read begs homeowners to keep mulch a good foot away from the base of the tree. Otherwise, it’s all too easy for pests, fungi, and miscellaneous tree diseases to creep inside your tree.

It’s not that easy to create a reasonably even border around a tree. Around a utility pole–no problem. Your average light pole is either round or hexagonal, and all you have to do is measure x inches in each direction, mark the border, and cut up the sod.

But as you can see in the photo, tree trunks are not necessarily a perfect circle, especially close to the roots.

Eventually I solved the problem by giving the tree an ankle-type bracelet of twine about 24 inches up the trunk, then measuring from the twine using a yardstick as a hypotenuse and dropping a teaspoon of flour where the yardstick met the ground. Anyone who has ever marked a  hemline with one of those chalk-puffing thingies will understand the principle.

It wasn’t a perfect solution, as you will see by the picture; it’s more of a tree ellipse than a tree circle, but it’s not as uneven as it looks. The ground on the street side of the tree is a good three inches lower than the ground on the sidewalk side, which distorts the appearance in the photo, plus the root on the right intruding so far into the ring doesn’t help matters. In person, the thing looks pretty good.

Removing the grass was no picnic, either. The best way I’ve found to remove small sections of grass is to use a linoleum knife to make long parallel cuts in the sod, and then slicing across the bottom as needed before pulling it up. Alas, this kind of work is hard on the hand that moves the mouse, not to mention the wrist and forearm. The hands-and-knees aspect isn’t so wonderful, either; I’ve learned–the hard way–that I can do all the gardening I want as long as I don’t do it for more than 15 minutes at a time twice a day.

It took almost a week of interval gardening to finish the mowing ring. However, the good news is that, except for cleaning up random weeds and grass rhizomes that escaped my first purge, I won’t have to deal with this part of the yard for a while.

Unfortunately, the part of the yard that I neglected to take care of the tree ring is now jungle-like, so I have my work cut out for me for the rest of the month summer.

© 2011 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

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4 Responses to My Version of a Crop Circle

  1. I make these, too. I used to put mulch, though no longer do. I like your hemline method for marking the circle. I just used a yardstick and eyeballed 20 inches as I went around. (Not the best method, but the trees in my yard are ornamentals with conveniently even trunks. The large trees are at the woods’ edge so don’t need them. And the spruces are huge and not a problem.) The circles are very popular around here, and of late some have taken to use red cedar chips (which are more like flaming orange). You have no idea how ugly that is.


    • Anne Bingham says:

      Red cedar chips are a blight on the landscape here, too. I wonder, why stop at red? Why not purple? Blue? Acid green? What am I saying? Some bozo probably is out there marketing just such a thing. I’d call it punk landscaping except punk is so Eighties.


  2. I’m not that energetic, once I found Roundup, I just spray and wait 🙂 It usually dries up and blows away in a couple of months–no fuss, no muss.

    And you are right about the mulch. On smaller trees, the mulch or grass clippings up next to the trunk, heat up and “cook” the trunk, usually killing the tree.


    • Anne Bingham says:

      Killing sod around here just means you have to deal with an ugly brown patch forever, until the weeds colonize it. I do use a kill-all spray for some things: thistles, cracks in the sidewalk,–unfortunately because of allergies I miss the prime weeding season and by then the sidewalk cracks have to be hand-weeded or then you have dead weeds in the walk (see above). One of these years I’m just going to quit saving for a new computer, a new driveway, a new car and just buy landscaping services like the neighbors do.


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