November 17, 2010

Tough Decisions

Perennials are pretty, shrubs can be nice.  But trees are the plants that hooked me on gardening.  I'm still amazed that the bare root twig I planted in spring 2007 in front of some established spruce trees looked like this when I put it in:
you can't even see it inside the plastic mesh cage
And in fall 2010, just four seasons later, it looked like this:
It's a river birch, Betula nigra, and it is by far the fastest growing tree I have.  It is sitting in an area that forms a puddle when it rains where the lawn dips in front of the mulched bed, and true to its river heritage, it loves this wet spot.

My other twigs and saplings and whips and transplants, trees of all kinds, remain much much smaller.  But they all have within their tiny roots and little twiggy branches the potential to grow to be trees.  Some of them to be 40 foot trees.  All from a sprout that starts as a little stick and two leaves, that I have to protect within plastic cages at first.

I have other river birches, and they are growing well.  They tend to be very fast growers.  All have the wonderfully shaggy peeling pinkish bark that they are known for, and it appears early, within the tree's first years.

But none of the other river birches have grown as abundantly as the one in front of the spruces, so happy in its perfect, perpetually wet spot.  The others dropped their leaves by mid November; the one by the spruces held its leaves the longest, still golden with glittery fall leaves into late November.

This river birch is going to outgrow its space.  Already, after just four seasons living together, the birch and the spruces are touching and mingling branches.  They are both just going to get bigger and bigger.  The river birch can get to 50 or more feet tall, and 40 feet wide.  This one, so immensely happy in its wet spot, may get even bigger.

50 feet tall!  40 feet wide!  It's already encroaching on the conifers.  What will I do?  Of course it will need to be removed.  But could you do that?  Could you take out a tree that you planted as a twig?  A tiny twig?  And watched it become so lovely and shapely and pleasing right before your eyes?  Could you hack it down?
From behind the bed, the river birch and spruces frame the glorious red maple in fall.
Perennial gardeners are used to dividing and moving and, yes, pulling out stuff that is too big or doesn't work in the garden any more.  Tree gardeners have tougher decisions.

Some of my other 40 foot trees-to-be
I should plant another river birch further in front of the spruce tree, far enough away this time to account for its eventual size.  They grow so fast, I could put it in now, give it three years to reach a pleasing size, and then take down the one that is too close.  That way I won't have a period of time with a completely empty space there in front of the spruces.

Makes sense.  But could you do it?  Could you take down the tree you grew from a twig?

I'm not sure I can.


  1. It is decisions like this that make my garden less than a designer's dream.

  2. I agree Commonweeder! My garden decisions are often based on my emotions more than fact. I don't think I could take it out Laurrie - but I like your idea about growing another one simultaneously...I'd probably be more likely to take out the spruce that's in the way!

  3. I think I'd be more inclined to knock out a spruce than remove the birch. The rare time when I put a plant in a spot it so obviously loves I couldn't possibly think of moving it. The plant is healthy and happy, and I'd rather build a garden around it than move it.

  4. No, I couldn't take down a perfectly wonderful tree such as this. It has done your bidding by growing tall and strong. The Spruce trees will accept it's presence. I would let nature take it's course.

  5. Commonweeder, I am surprised by how much of garden design is redesign!

    Whimsical Gardener, I hesitate to take out the spruce because it screens us from the road, so that will stay.

    Marguerite, You are right, the birch so obviously loves where it is... it is telling me something.

    Lisa, you may have the best advice of all, just to leave things be. In a real forest trees would crowd each other, right?


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