Friday, June 12, 2009

Planning for a shady future

When people talk about the responsibilities of being a homeowner, items like mowing the lawn, cleaning out the gutters, replacing appliances and repairing roof shingles or siding are usually discussed. Still tangible but not directly related to the home are the trees around the property; specifically the mature trees. When I purchased my house, it had only one tree on the property, likely planted when the duplex was built. This means I have a ~40 year-old green ash tree on the southwestern corner of my house.

When I took ownership, one of the first things I did was plant another shade tree, Tilia americana or a basswood in Fall 2006. Aside from the Japanese beetles that like to defoliate the tree, my originally ~6 feet-tall tree is now nearly 9 feet tall. In the intervening years I have planted a total of four trees, all of different genuses and varying heights but always less than six feet. While some are slower than others (my Sorbus americana or mountain ash [excruciatingly slow] versus Ostrya virginiana or hophornbeam [definitely growing]), I knew I was planting for the future and to maximize the diversity on my small lot.

My first spring in the house, I had noticed that my mature tree had some dead branches and was worried the part overhanging my roof would pose a danger. After talking with three arborists, I hired one to trim my tree and lighten the load from the ends of the branches. The arborist I chose estimated I may have 20 good years left in the tree, assuming no other factors like weather intervene.

Last summer, I noticed the western side of my tree had leaves that looked scorched and were dropped early. While I had some concerns, I did not seek the advice of an arborist. In the face of slow leafing out and almost nothing on the western side this spring, I did ask an arborist to stop by and look at my tree. He diagnosed anthracnose, a fungal disease. While a healthy tree can live through this disease with some support, my tree is more like a shrub with no leader stem and many branches with leafy weight on the end. Furthermore, there is an open wound on the tree that may not be healing all that well. On top of all this, emerald ash borer is now present in my state. These factors lead the arborist I consulted to suggest I plant a tree right next to the green ash so there is an established tree when it needs to be taken down.

While there is no way to know if my tree will survive another five years or more, I was worried that the lone mature tree on my property was under threat if not in dire straits. Lacking a mature tree does affect the value of my home. However, I had already chosen another tree to plant just in case I had to select one to replace the ash tree. Therefore, I visited a local nursery, picked out an Acer saccharum (sugar maple) and planted it seven feet from my green ash tree. It stands about nine feet tall and based on my research, should be a good shade tree for the property.

I had hoped that my ash tree could last until I sold the property but having a new tree in place, ready to take over when other needs to be removed will help diminish the loss of my sole mature tree. If conditions are ideal, the sugar maple can grow up to 12 inches a year. If the ash tree lasts long enough, the sugar maple will make a worthy transition from small tree to shade tree.

Have you encountered similar tree-related issues?

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