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Issue: March 27, 2010

Hackberry and service berry trees are safe for livestock and you can even eat the fruit from service berry trees.

Q. I want to purchase some trees and shrubs, but I need to know if they are poisonous to my cow/calves/horses? They are called hackberry and service berry.

Do you know anything about them? I would appreciate an answer as soon as you can.

Glenda

Lordsburg

A. Hackberry and Service berry trees should not be a poisoning concern for your livestock. The trees may be more damaged by the livestock than the livestock injured by the trees. In fact, the fruit of the serviceberry is used in some parts of the country to make jellies, jams, syrups, and other human-edible products.

Since you are in the southwestern part of the state, be sure they will grow in your area. With adequate water, some members of these tree families should do well (hackberry is in the elm family and service berry is in the rose family), but some service berries from the Pacific Northwest may not be as well adapted as varieties from more southern sources. Check with the nursery selling the plants and with your NMSU Extension Service agent to find out what varieties are being sold and if they will grow in your area. Soil adaptability should also be considered. If these varieties are native to regions with acid soils, expect problems, but if the plants are from areas with calcareous soils there is a greater chance of success.

Proper planting is also important. Prepare the planting site as if you were preparing a flower bed. Add organic matter (compost not manure at this time of year). Old composted manure (turned frequently and well watered to leach salts from the manure is OK. Dig only as deeply as the rootball of the plant you are planting so that it will not sink after you plant it, but prepare the planting site widely (3 or more feet radius). For larger saplings, plant them at the same level they were grown in the nursery so that the crown (where the roots and trunk join) has adequate oxygen. Plant the new trees in the center of this prepared soil. Add no additional organic matter around the roots when backfilling the soil. If the plant is a bare root plant, prune any broken roots and soak the roots in water for a couple of hours before planting. If the trees were grown in containers, cut any circling roots before planting the trees. Water the plants well after planting and cover the prepared planting bed with organic mulch (wood chips, bark, or straw if it will not blow away). As the soil under the mulch dries, irrigate (about once or twice a week the first year, twice a month in subsequent growing seasons, once a month during the dormant season).

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at http://www.cahe.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h.

Send your gardening questions to:

Yard and Garden, ATTN: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Cooperative Extension Service
9301 Indian School Road, NE, Suite 112
Albuquerque, NM 87112

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.