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A CEMETERY RESTORATION- THE NATURE OF SOUTHERN TREES.

Trees are a tall subject in cemeteries because they can destroy a cemetery or enhance its lasting ability and offer beauty for the visitor. We will address this subject using a knowledge of the Southeastern Forest. This will yield a information base for trees in old southern cemeteries but may be generally applicable in other areas of the country.  Trees come in all kinds and are either a friend to the cemetery or a nuisance that can destroy the memorials and penetrate the graves destroying the interred remains.

As a Foe of the Cemetery
It is critical that trees be controlled in all cemeteries especially the old family cemeteries where they tend to spring up unchecked. Uncontrolled growth can result in the following problems

1. Their roots enlarge and move the stone bases rendering the memorials out of level and causing them to fall.
2. They feed off of the nutrients of the decomposition of the grave remains if allowed to grow near the graves. The softer soil from grave refill allows for penetration by the tree roots enhancing the possibility of an unchecked tree growing into the grave. Especially in old cemeteries where the deceased was not interred in a protective metal container.
3. Trees grow large and shed limbs in the storms and wet season. Storms cause the limbs or whole trees to come smashing down the memorials knocking them down and breaking them because no one bothered to make a differentiation between the mighty Oaks and Cedars and the invasive Black Cherry & Hackberry that all have such a short, brittle & brutal life. However all trees can be detrimental to gravestones as evidenced by recent tornados in northern Alabama. In the tornados of 27 Apr 2011 there is a case in the Andrews Cemetery in Limestone County Alabama of large Oak tree falling away from the stone but in the process the root ball lifted into the air causing a deep hole. This caused the monument which was sitting near the tree base to tumble four feet into the gapping hole opened by the fallen tree roots. This monument would have disappeared underground in time as the root ball of the tree dissolved back into the hole filling around & covering the stone. In that case I used a tripod to lift the stone back to the surface but did not salvage the base because it was mired upside down into the remains of the deceased.
Tornados generally cause the trees to fall mostly to the west but severe ones will cause them to fall north or even south. So large trees should always be planted on the east side of graves and then far enough away (abt 10 feet east) that if they fall they the root ball will not affect the monument. 

As a friend of the Cemetery
Trees can also be a friend of the cemetery serving in the following ways to enhance the beauty and protection of the memorials from the harsh elements of nature.
Proper placement or allowing the proper trees to grow in selected places causes a protective canopy to form over the graves and stones and yields generally a cleaner more readable memorial stone that is free of lichens and mosses. The tree will shelter the stones from the harsh elements of nature and keep them dryer and cleaner if they are the proper kind. The placement of the trees must be a safe distance away and always east from the graves so they don't fall on the memorials in a storm. 
We should discuss the kinds of trees that are best suited for cemeteries in the southeast around Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi and perhaps Louisiana and parts of Texas and the western part of the Carolinas. We should include here the nature and a rating of the suitability of each type of tree for our purposes of providing beauty and shelter for old historical family cemeteries.
It is generally understood that small ornamental and evergreen trees make the best covers and offer the most beauty in cemeteries. Since our subject is small historical cemeteries our task is more of a selection process than deciding which trees to plant. This is because most small cemeteries are not provided with a well established restoration and maintenance force. It could be as simple as a farmer or land owner deciding which trees should be left to grow freely in a nearby cemetery on their premises. Let us now rate the trees that grow native to the south granted some of these trees may not be prevalent in your area depending largely on the topography.
Red Cedar - Rated a 9. My favorite native tree is perhaps the old common Red Cedar. It will stand a hundred years or sometimes much more and when it dies will stand another hundred years without falling on the stones. This is because of the rot proof durability of the wood. When it does finally fall it is dry and light and does a minimum of damage to the stones. The only drawback is that Red Cedar does not produce a large canopy and the shade is therefore not as widespread. Also the Cedar is a softwood and storms tend to damage it more easily than the hardwoods. I rate the Red Cedar a 9 with 10 being the best and 0 being the worst.
Black, Water or Willow Oak - Rated a 0. I would rate the worst tree to be the Black, Water or Willow Oak. This class of Oaks grow swiftly and generally matures to a three foot trunk in fifty years. They constantly shed very large limbs being very brittle. They are subject to many diseases shortening their lives and are unsuitable for cemeteries. Another tree the Weeping Willow is also prone to shed limbs and grows & dies fast so I will also rate it a 0. 
Red Oak- Rated a 4. These trees grow fast and strong but are a bit brittle and massive and have a few diseases but mature quickly and die within one to two hundred years depending on the nutrients of the surrounding soil.  
Chestnut and other types of white Oak - Rated a 7. These can grow massive and are pretty strong with many of them rotting on the stump before falling after living a long life of 200 to 300 years. They are only a problem because of the tremendous size of the limbs which may endanger anything below them.
Black Cherry is also unsuitable as it grows fast and falls easily in storms on to the stones and has a short & brutal life.

Bowdak - Rated a 10 and a 4. The old common Bowdak is about the ugliest tree of them all but it is like the Red Cedar in that it never sheds limbs to fall on the stones. It is ugly because it grows in a gnarled manner hardly ever straight and with many dead lower branches with small thorns on them which never fall away. This is the tree the American Indians used to make their bows from and is strong and hard as a rock. It will reduce a chain saw to mush if you are so brave as to try to cut one. I think if it were planted and nurtured so it would grow strait. It then could become an enhanced addition to any cemetery due to its deep canopy, strength. Down side is the ugly green fruit that is shed in the late summer. 
American Holly - Rated an 8 This is another of my favorite trees in cemeteries because it can live a long life and grow massive in size and provide a great year round cover for the stones without falling on them.