March 28, 2010

Disassemblng a Tree

Last week our neighbors had a huge tree taken down.  Men in hard hats and ear protection came early in the morning in big trucks and revved up their chainsaws and started up the chippers, and yelled instructions at each other at the top of their lungs.
This was not a dead tree, it was a huge living eastern cottonwood in their back yard.  While some would argue that it's a travesty to chop down a live forest tree, I am of the opposite opinion.  It's okay to take down trees.  Not to clear cut or decimate whole forests, but occasionally a large, healthy tree is in the wrong spot, or it's a nuisance.  Cutting down a tree if you want is #9 on The Renegade Gardener's list of 10 approved tenets of renegade gardening, so there.

The eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) is a trash tree here.  Our hillsides are covered with them, they overtake open fields, and they are fast growing, weak wooded trees that self destruct in 20 years, falling apart on their own, and in any kind of storm.  The one in the picture below dominated our back hill when we moved in.  It, unlike the neighbor's cottonwood, was dead as a hammer, and shed huge branches in every breeze, and fell apart when it rained.  The town took it down two years ago.  I miss the winter structure, and the two cranky crows who perched in it, always on the same branches and always in bad humor, but not the mess or the hulking dead look in summer when all the other trees leafed out.

Our neighbor's live tree was a female and dispersed cotton seed fluff all over the neighborhood when in bloom.  Really annoying stuff, it looked like snow on a warm summer day, and it gathered in every corner and piled into every nook.

The cottonwood does have a redeeming feature, though; on a breezy day the big triangle-shaped leaves flutter like their cousins the quaking aspens, and they make a noisy rushing sound like ocean surf.  At night when you don't see the leaves moving, the sound alone is confusing; the leaves rustle in a way that sounds just like pittery pattery rain, but it's dry.

Nevertheless, the neighbor's tree came down.  The men did not chop it down, but rather dis-assambled it in the reverse order that it had grown, starting with removal of the branches:

Then, when it was just a tall stick without any branches, they sawed the trunk into pieces from the top down:

As the trunk was cut into pieces, the operator dropped each section from above into a pile of tires, which worked surprisingly well to absorb the impact of the logs tumbling down from on high:

Then there was nothing:

And a whole entire tree, some 50 feet tall, was reduced in the chipper to mulch:

It took about 45 minutes in all.

There are other woodsy trees in the neighbor's back yard as you can see in the pictures, providing screening and bird homes and playgrounds for squirrels.  In fact there are plenty of other cottonwoods there.  But this one large tree that dominated their yard, made a cottony mess and had every intention of dropping branches on their house, is gone.  Already it's not missed.

Populus deltoides
in MoBot's database
in University of Connecticut's plant files


  1. They were good, they didn't even crush the bulbs that were growing at the case of the tree.

  2. I think watching a crew disassemble a tree is like watching a ballet. I can't stop watching the skill, agility that it takes to take one down without damaging all around. I am allergic to cotton wood fluff. I would be happy it was gone especially since there are many other trees there.

  3. A professional tree crew is incredibly efficient. I'd have to put eastern white pine in the same category as cottonwoods. Soft, brittle branches that are often shed during rain or snowstorms. I have many here.

  4. Deborah, Lisa and Fern, the crew really did do a remarkable job, and so easily and cleanly. They were awfully noisy though!

  5. I like what Lisa said about this process being like watching a ballet. I agree it's no sin to take down a tree in a situation like this. I haven't been able to do it, myself, even though there are four annoying Norway maples out front. My solution is to plant more natives elsewhere on the property. Maybe eventually I'll take down those Norways, but not yet.

  6. Jodi,
    Even the trash trees serve a purpose until you're ready to take them down. My Norway maple is staying!


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