Day of Tree Reckoning

It seems funny that our largest house project so far (measured in dollars) is happening today and a) we aren’t there doing it and b) its about taking something out instead of putting something in.

There is an arborist spending the day in our lovely backyard removing a clump of 4 Honey Locusts in order to allow more space for our pending veggie garden (more on that soon!).

Now, D and I both love us some trees. Its been a hard decision to take out a piece of the backyard that provides texture, shade, and privacy from the neighbors. But, we are doing it for the following reasons.

a) the tree is a nuisance species and its unheathy. Honey locusts are brittle trees. So brittle and dangerous in fact that they are on the list of things you aren’t allowed to plant as a street tree in the City of Seattle. And they are an invasive species, which means the city doesn’t even require a permit. They’re not inherently good for the ecosystem. Also, there is a conch mold growing on the root base. You see this a lot, further up on the tree, and its not a problem. However, the arborist told us that by growing on the root base we can’t see the extent of the damage it is doing. He said this tree would likely fall down in the next 10 years so we shouldn’t feel bad being proactive about it.

b) back to the nuisance species. THese trees propagate via runners from the roots and leaves/thorns that fall (oh thats right, the saplings have 1″ thorns!). So they grow EVERYWHERE. Last summer we were pulling up new baby locusts all the way in the front yard, and they have spread to houses on both sides. We could easily plant a new tree that is a healthier, more ecosystem friendly species that will also behave and stay in our yard where its intended!

c) Our neighbors planted a great looking Western Hemlock on our fenceline a few years back. Unfortunately, the locust canopy is providing too much shade and the Hemlock is growing out instead of up. Its a beautiful evergreen, and we’d like to be able to see the back of it too! We want to do what we can to help it grow in a healthy fashion because its a tree that will be in the neighborhood for a long, long time.

d) We are planting raised beds to do a little urban agriculture in our back yard. This clump of trees takes up a 7’x7′ footprint RIGHT behind our house in prime veggie-garden location. We have enough land that we could be flexible if this were the only reason, but it will be nice to have herbs right off the back deck and not have to wade around a giant tree to get to them.

e) Locust wood makes GREAT fire wood because it is hard and dense. The arborist is going to cut it into short rounds for us, so we just need to chop it into firewood and season. We’ll be ALL SET for firewood next winter which will save us time, money, and natural gas. So, we’ll be utilizing all we can from the thing.

So don’t worry, we’ll be planting something equally beautiful elsewhere in the yard to make up for the loss (likely a birch or flowering cherry) because there are days when we do cherish the shade and dappled light that this provides. Its funny how “barren” our yard seems right now because we’ve spent the fall and winter un-doing all the irresponsible gardening that has happened over the last few years on our property. I look at pics of when we bought the house, at at first blush the yard seems like a lush garden oasis, private and green. But then you look closer and its 80% english ivy growing around out-of-control tree clumps. Maybe its the architects in us that prefer a more structured aesthetic, or maybe its the environmentalists in us that want a truly heathly yard, but we sort of had to pare things back to scratch before starting again. The plus is that the yard literally feels twice as big, the minuses are that for now we lack a little of the privacy we first had, and there’s a lot more soil than green going on right at the moment.

Stay tuned and follow the progress!

Backyard the day we first saw the house (April 2009 almost a year ago!). Note we are keeping the singleton locust near the back of the yard.

[More notes on locust removal: Because these are so root dependent, the arborist is taking out over two days. He’s cutting it down to the stump today, at which point we will apply Bayer Advanced Brush Killer to the stump. This will penetrate the root system and hopefully kill all the runners. Tomorrow he’ll be back to grind the stump and leave us a nice pile of mulch :) Apparently if you don’t apply the Brush Killer, you might as well have not taken down the tree at all because the root system will stay active for a couple of years until bacteria and bugs finally take the stump down to nothing. Its a lot of work for some little trees – this is why they’re called invasive!]

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6 thoughts on “Day of Tree Reckoning

  1. Will we get to see some garden pictures when its done? Good thought about doing a raised garden. The roots from that thing will be a real hindrance to a successful garden (as will the brush killer). Good luck with it all.
    The Handyguys

    1. we were told that the brush killer is being applied directly to the stump and therefore would kill very little around the stump. i specifically was concerned about a yard full of dead grass to deal with!
      we will certainly show you how it goes!

  2. You did the right thing removing the black locust if your concern was hazard potential. Besides the issues you mentioned, the tree was multi-stemmed probably because it originated from sprouts from a cut stump, and the individual stems are prone to failure at the base. But as for the garden situation the benefits will be temporary. Hemlocks tolerate shade and grow very slowly when in the understory. When the canopy is removed, they quickly take advantage of the sunlight and their growth takes off. The black locust, a nitrogen-fixing legume that does not cast a very dense shade, is actually less detrimental in terms of competition to the plants below it. I hope your garden placement won’t end up causing a future dispute with the neighbor as you begin to appreciate his hemlock less and less.

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