It's the first of the month and time to show you a gardening oops, or GOOPs, as Joene calls them. You can see the mistakes others have made in their gardens on her blog.
My mistake unfolded over a couple seasons until I finally realized I had an oops.
In back of our property is an open untended meadow and hillside. It was simply bare dirt when we moved in several years ago. The builder had scraped it, run over it, graded it a little bit and then left. Weeds moved in to cover the bare earth.
I have rescued silver maple volunteers, I have found red maple seedlings, I let the sumac suckers grow, and occasionally an oak sapling has volunteered. I nurture them all, keeping rabbits and deer away, watering in dry times, and making sure they have a chance to grow.
I was quite pleased to see a couple of little trees show up that had compound leaves. Ash maybe? Hickories or even a walnut tree? Hmmm.
The first tip off for I.D. should have been The Rule of Disturbed Earth. That is, only very aggressive plants will grow easily in your untended wilderness after the earth has been opened.
The second tip off was the Rule of Rapid Growth. That is, trees that grow like weeds are weeds.
I took a branch cutting and checked the internet. What were these compound-leaved, thriving, volunteer trees that I had been nurturing and watering and tending?
Oh. They were Ailanthus altissima. Tree of Heaven. An invasive, alleopathic, suckering non-native from China that forms great colonies and disperses gazillions of samara seedpods every year. Fast growing and weak wooded, they break apart. Male trees smell awful when the leaves are crushed or the bark scratched. Ugh. They grow to be huge trees.
There is a big stand of them two streets over, and they are horrid trees, choking out everything else and being messy. As I look carefully in the weeds of the unmown meadow, I see several of these little Ailanthus saplings getting underway.
Unlike the multiflora rose, which I will never be able to control, or the poison ivy or bittersweet vines which will outlive their hosts, I think I can rid the meadow of these potentially large trees. Once they sprout they are easy to see and I'll cut each down.
I have to laugh at my naivete --- tending these fast growers that just showed up and thinking how they would make a wonderful new forest in just a few seasons. Oops. . . .
One distinction in the leaves between tree of heaven and others -- ailanthus has smooth edged leaves, while hickory and ash have serrated edges. Otherwise, the compound leaves look similar.