January 18, 2014

Towering Nuisance

Eastern Cottonwood trees (Populus deltoides) grow all around us in areas that were disturbed by the builders.

They are fast growing, messy, weak wooded trees that do not live very long, but they grow to a huge size in a short time. Then they die, and start showering branches and debris all over.

In June the female trees blow white cotton fluff all over the neighborhood where it accumulates just like snow in corners of the patio and around plants in the garden.

Hundreds of little cottonwood seedlings must be weeded out of my gardens and out of my containers where they land and quickly sprout.

The meadow has little cottonwood saplings popping up all over.

When we moved into our new home almost 10 years ago, there was a cottonwood sapling on the back hill that was my height. It was just a five and a half foot thing, leaning over on the steep hillside.

I could easily have cut it down then by hand with my pruning saw, and I considered doing that many times, but I didn't do it.

I regret that now.

Last summer I looked up and the cottonwood had suddenly achieved an ominous presence. It towered over everything in my yard, and it had outgrown the maples and oaks near it on the hill.

It is still a young tree, narrow and upright. It will soon spread outward and dominate my entire garden even more.

As skinny as this cottonwood looks, it is too tall now for me to cut it down, and the trunk is too big for any hand saw.  I need to pay a tree removal service to come in this winter and take it down.

Why didn't I cut this down when I could have a few years ago?

The mother of this cottonwood sapling was a big old thing that stood at the top of the ridge, just above where the skinny one is growing. It was dead as a hammer when we moved in, and just stood there, dropping branches and self destructing when the wind blew.

When the trees around it leafed out and the grass greened up, the dead cottonwood just looked gloomy and it cast a pall over the whole scene. Old snags in the forest, or even in a woodsy garden, can be structural and interesting (and provide perching and rest for birds) but this cottonwood was too much looming deadwood at the top of the ridge.

A road runs along this ridge, and the dead tree was on town property at the edge of the road, so when it started dropping limbs on passing cars, the town came and took it down.

They left cut stumps by the roadside where they rotted all winter. One spring I managed to roll one onto its side, get it started rumbling down the hill and chased it to the bottom, where, on hands and knees, I rolled it over and over to a spot in my garden.

The stump was beautifully adorned with turkey tail fungus, which made it more a work of art than a functional side table in the gravel garden.



The turkey tails eventually dried out in the sun, and now I do use the cottonwood stump as a side table, so some good came of this big, messy, dead tree.

I don't know if I'll get anything useful when the young cottonwood sapling is cut down this winter. Maybe some slender logs to burn in the fire pit.

I wish I had acted earlier to remove the sapling before it suddenly became such a big nuisance towering over everything.

 

33 comments:

  1. I love your description of tumbling the stump section down the hill :-)

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    1. Emily, getting the heavy cottonwood stump into my garden was not dignified in any way. But I managed it by myself with few injuries.

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  2. I have to get after maple, hawthorn, ash and hackberry trees in my garden. A constant bother. I have left an oak tree to grow that the squirrels planted because it is near the ash that will probably be killed by ash borers. We will see. I might be sorry I left the oak to grow. I am not even sure what kind it is. I guess I should find out while it is small enough for me to handle.

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    1. Lisa, you absolutely need to get after those problem trees while they are little. Boy, do I regret letting this cottonwood go too long. Get your saw!

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  3. Well, at least you got a beautiful stump out of that parent tree. It's easy for those fast-growing trees to get away from you.

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    1. Sweetbay, I hope I get something interesting or useful when they take down the skinny cottonwood, but most likely I'll just get brush and twigs.

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  4. I love the beauty of that stump! I'm a sucker for a good stump in my space! It is so unbelievable that that tree has grown that much in that short of time!! I have so many messy trees in my garden and would not be up to picking out anymore little saplings than I already do..so I understand your need to pull that guy out so that he doesn't take over your space! I actually have to cut down 2 honeysuckle shrubs in my back garden this summer. They were here when we moved in but have so much dead wood and the amount of insects they attract are killing my shade garden beneath them. I am thinking a Service Berry or a Crape Myrtle but first I have to convince my husband because he really likes the privacy that the honeysuckles create. Good luck in the tree removal! Nicole

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    1. Nicole, it is surprising how durable the stump has been. The wood from fast growing cottonwoods is weak and the trees fall apart easily, but the stump has lasted for years now. Good luck with the honeysuckle removal -- you'll be glad when it's out of there!

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  5. When we moved into our home there was a dead poplar of some kind at the back that the birds and hawks used to get a good view from. We lived with it for about 10 years when it started dropping branches and then of course it had to come down. A dead tree can still offer value for quite some time. Sorry to hear about the cottonwood- they do sound messy and troublesome to the gardener.

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    1. Patty, I do like having a dead tree mixed in with other trees in a woodland setting -- both for the look of it and for the value you mention. Nothing as humongous and foreboding as the dead cottonwood we had, though!

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  6. I feel your pain! It is so easy to deal with them when they are little, but so expensive when they get too big. You can, by the way, drop remarkably large trees on frozen gardens and flexible shrubs with little or no damage. It is when there is no clear space to drop it...or you have conveniently planted a flowering dogwood (for example) that has finally gotten around to flowering in the only possible drop zone....
    We've taken to girdling some trees, mostly volunteer ash and Norway Maple, if they are in areas that people don't walk but where the tree can't be dropped without damage to surrounding trees.
    Cottonwood stumps do last much longer than expected, we had one that stood for about twenty years after the tree snapped: http://acairfearann.com/2012/04/27/all-things-end/
    (acairfearann) for some reason my ID isn't working.

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    1. Acair Fearann, this young cottonwood is already tilting and will only drop one way -- down onto my emerging line of bottlebrush buckeye shrubs, which are brittle enough! And my only tool is a hand pruning saw, so I am overmatched. By the way, I loved the entry you linked to that describes the haunting cottonwood snag in your woods --- beautifully described. (I could not find a way to comment on that post, though).

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    2. Now that, the buckeyes, is a pain (much like my dogwood!). A hand saw is definitely over matched for something that size. I'm slowly learning how much easier things are with the right power tool, rather than brute force, but I still tend to do it the hard way.
      That cottonwood I linked to (I've had to shut comments off on older posts, but I'm glad you liked it) was a spectacular snag and very much an element in the landscape. It was kind enough to not, quite, squish a young fir when it toppled.
      acairfearann

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  7. I wish
    i had a corronwood tree....woodsman save this tree

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  8. I took two skinny but tall trees out of my garden in December that I should have taken down years ago. Fortunately, my son and I were able to cut them down with a pruning saw. I thought I'd be a bit sad to see them go but it was a relief. I'd get that tree outta there before it gets any bigger. Maybe if you only have the top 2/3's cut off, it will be cheaper and the wildlife can enjoy the stump.

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    1. Tammy, The stump and the cut trunk wood will remain in the meadow, since it is an unmowed, unmanaged area out there, and I'm not paying for removal, just to have it taken down. Good thing you got at your problem trees while they were small enough!

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  9. There are several trees in my woodlands that need to come down, and I keep telling my dear hubby to cut them while they are small; I wish I could do it myself! I do love to let tree stumps rot in the woodlands; an entire ecosystem grows up around and inside them. The turkey tail fungus is outstanding!

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    1. Deb, that's the key -- getting the trees cut while they are small. I did love the look of those turkey tails until they inevitably dried up. They were complex works of art.

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  10. Well, you did learn a useful lesson. Better late than never. At least you got some nice art from the stumps and fungus.

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    1. Lee, Lessons in the garden are so hard (and expensive at times). That's the rub. I keep learning. . . .

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  11. Oh man, that's such a bummer. Tree removal is so expensive! Here's to hoping you get some good use out of the stumps.

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    1. Heather, two years ago I could have cut it down myself. How quickly it got out of hand. Don't blink in your garden, or stuff will take over. Scary.

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  12. Love the stump! I'm smiling, though, at the image of you rolling it down the hill to your garden. I've done that a couple of times here--though no hill--and the trick is getting it to stop:) I hope getting that cottonwood cut down isn't too expensive. I cut down a seedling in my garden this fall after having it identified as a silver maple, another nuisance tree. I didn't know what it was, but I thought anything that grows six feet in a year can't be good!

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    1. Rose, that's the alarming sign: anything that grows 6 feet a year! Watch out for those : )

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  13. There are young cottonwoods not on my property and I figure they will not last. I have ash trees saplings that I have to keep after all the time. But maybe if the Emerald Ash Borer goes away, I may be able to replant some trees where the old ones were taken down. I love the stump table.

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    1. Donna, there are always problem trees to watch out for, or they take over our gardens! I've had several commenters say ash trees are trouble, but they are not here.

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  14. I like your stump-table, Laurrie. And I try to cut all cottonwoods in my garden don't wait when they grow up. I cut them as aspens that I don't like to see in my place as well. I think you better cut it too.

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    1. Nadezda, thanks! I know now that I should not wait even a few years to cut down the cottonwoods. We don't have aspens growing here, so I don't worry about them. But another problem tree that comes up too often is Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven).

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  15. We have a similar issue with American beech trees. I love them but ... young trees sprout from the extended roots to, if not managed, form a beech forest. Many of the little beech are such a pleasing shape that I tend to leave them in place, until I notice them beginning to tower over neighboring plants. That's when the hand saw comes out. Of course, I only cut the saplings growing in the cultivated areas of our property. Those growing in the woods absolutely stay.

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    1. Joene, I do love the young beech trees sparkling in the woods in winter, hanging on to their leaves! But I wouldn't want them all over the garden. I'm glad the ones in your forest stay.

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  16. That stump is so beautiful! A real work of art. We, too, have the cottonwood tree growing wild in the woods down here, and it sends its fluffy stuff out every June. Funny - they don't bother me at all, but then, none seem to have taken root in my yard. Not that I could even identify it until it was too late!

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    1. Sarah, luckily you are not inundated with cottonwood seedlings in your yard. I see the seedlings pop up in a cup of coffee if I don't drink it fast enough.

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