Starting to plan for a post-ash backyard... (Long ,wordy post...)

woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)April 27, 2010

Emerald Ash Borer is moving ever closer in our town. Plus the ash is getting old - a neighbour's ash of similar size fell down in a windstorm a few summer ago. The ash hasn't shown any signs of leafing out yet this year, but then it's always a late starter. I'm thinking that we may just take it down this year even if it is still alive.

While the ash has been valuable for shade/cooling of the house and backyard, it has enormous potential to damage the house if it came down in an uncontrolled way. So I've started playing around with ideas of what to plant in its stead.

We've planted a few small trees over the past few years that are still pretty insignificant in size. But the young red oak is now covering a good part of the south side of the yard and is taller than the house now. The white pines at the back of the garden are a substantial presence and should be around for a while. They are still young enough to have all their lower limbs but are old enough to be significant.

The loss of the ash will turn the backyard from a shady place to a sunny place - and increase our cooling costs no doubt! At first I was thinking of replacing it with another 'generational' tree but I'm not sure if that's what will suit us best. The afternoon sun comes from behind the pines, straight at the back of the house. As the pines age and get taller, that shoud block a bit of the sun. So I was thinking maybe some smaller/shorter trees to block the sun that will come from under the pines as the pines lose their bottom branches might be better. And that would allow me to add flowering trees for their ornamental value.

I played around with the scribbled plan I made when I made the rectangular lawn. The trees/circles on the lawn would be the new trees - maybe a magnolia for spring, flanked by two heptacodiums for late summe/fall. My scanner for some reason flattened all the circles so they're odd shapes... The circles for the oak and pines are at mature size - they aren't quite that big now.

This picture was taken from the back porch two days ago. It might help you orient yourself to the drawing. (The blue-gray shed will be painted a dark olive green next month.)

My questions:

Do you think the ornamental trees would work? Too many? Wrong place? If not smaller trees, what else and where?

The patio bed is going to be most badly affected by the loss of shade. Alternatives I see are to move all the plants (mostly hostas..) and replant with sun plants or plant a small tree in that bed too. If a tree, I'd have to make sure it's one that could be limbed up enough not to be an obstacle to the use of both the patio and the path past it. On the whole I lean toward the tree option as it would be more in character with the rest of the garden there than the introduction of sun-loving plants.

Any thoughts? (or did you get bored and give up reading long ago...? :-)

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Sorry, what were you saying, I just dropped off for a minute. My vote is to save the tree, I was dreaming of a land full of ornamental trees while you were droning on and when I woke up and saw all that mulch and imagined flowering cherries dotted about. I think I will wander out and shake my fist at the snow or perhaps I should have stayed asleep.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 5:51PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

It's April Ink! All that mulch is going to be less obvious soon - you know that :-) This is one of the few times of year that the garden looks as bare as the drawing.Here's a slightly different angle from the porch last July:

I'd very much like a 'land full of ornamental trees'. The red oak fills the living room window with fire when it turns color in the fall. The small trees we've added so far back there are two white redbuds, a serviceberry clump and several dogwoods (which persistently refuse to flower! - probably too much shade from the ash...)

Saving the tree isn't likely an option beyond this year at the most and it might even be dead now. I'm trying to get a head start on planning the next stage in the evelution of the gardeen.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 9:14PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I just found this picture again - the view of the oak from the living room in November when the oak changes color:

I do like color in the garden! :-)

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 9:52PM
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I hope my sorry attempt at humour hasn't doomed your thread woody. The problem with planting young small trees around an old timer that will eventually replace it is that they are obstacles to a tree crew and liable to be damaged. If you want the ash down do it now.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 9:50AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I knew you were teasing me...:-) I wouldn't plant the new trees until after the ash was taken down. If it's dead, it will come down as soon as we are sure of that. If it's not dead but we still decide to move on this year, we have to go through a lot of rigmarole with the Town and pay a penalty for removing a mature tree, so that would probably delay replanting until the fall. But I'd like to think through the next step now so we're ready whatever the state of the tree/timing is.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 9:58AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Ash - valued for its wood, isn't it, for woodworking and burning? Is that value the same dead as alive? If not, I'd be inclined to take it down sooner rather than wait, assuming it has made it through the winter. And I don't mean that for monetary reasons, although money might be made; just that it would be a shame for someone not to enjoy those fruits of its growth. Arborists usually know about opportunities to sell wood.

And isn't it stupid that cities impose penalties to homeowners for responsible property maintenance, thinking ahead and planting for future generations. I'm all for tree retention, but there should be exemptions for safety/disease decisions, and penalties invoked for people who keep dangerous trees. After all, if you wait till the tree falls, they sacrifice their fee anyway.

I think I'd vote for another generational tree, though obviously if you want flowering trees, who am I to stop you. The pines are further away and won't block the sun as well as a broad-canopied deciduous tree. Your cooling is, I would bet, also a result of a mass of cooler air in the back yard, not just blocking the sun at one point.

I have a Heptacodium. I keep resolving to take it down as its foliage just doesn't do much for me, but it is in a good spot for a tree and it does have its moments in late summer and fall from flowers and bracts (no real foliage interest in fall - yellow if anything). The trunk is interesting - not everyone's idea of beauty, but interesting. But I wouldn't plant two.


    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 11:08AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I've had to face the same sort of issues with removal of a large anchor tree in both my own garden, and also design clients' gardens, and prefer to think of it as an opportunity rather than a loss. For what it is worth, I think there is usually more design impact if you replace with a group of the same variety to give more continuity, rather than one of this, one of that. It is also easier to get the garden looking good if you don't try to force the shade requiring perennials to fit into the sunnier garden, I'd move the Hostas, etc if you have room elsewhere, and treat the new sunny beds as an opportunity for sun perennials/annuals until you have shade there again.

Laws regarding permits to take down large trees vary from town to town here in the San Francisco Bay Area, in almost all towns here locally, our native Coast Live Oak is the most protected, here in my town of Berkeley, other species do not require permits to remove, whereas in nearby Oakland, anything of size to be removed requires a permit, even if a weed species such as Eucalyptus globulus, or old dying giants such as Monterey Cypress or Monterey Pines.

I do work in a lot of gardens with 80 to 100 year old Monterey Pines and Cypress trees, that are reaching the end of their life spans and are in declining health and more risk of dropping limbs or falling completely. I love the appearance and skyline aspects, but tend to be pragmatic in generally recommending removal before they do damage.

We have an advantage in our California climate that new trees, depending on the species selected, can get height and size rather quickly. In one Alameda town garden right on the bay, I replaced a 100 foot tall by 50 foot diameter Pinus radiata with a grouping of 5-15 gallon saplings of the Lemon Gum Eucalyptus. Just 5 years later, these Euc's are already nearly 40 foot tall and looking beautiful as a replacement for the pine, and I have also removed the two smallest to retain the best 3 trees.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 12:31PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Karin - I hadn't thought of the wood value of the ash - good point to look into.

I have been having a vigorous debate with several Town officials on the issue of the tree by-law. I think the by-law is misguided. If you want to maintain a healthy tree canopy, you need to be replacing the mature trees regularly. The most likely consequences of delaying replacement is that more of the canopy will die in a short period due to old age and/or disease, plus property damage from falling trees will increase. One of the reasons I don't want to replace the ash with another generational tree is it would lock future owners into my landscaping choice because of the by-law - another reason the by-law is bad.

A generational tree is unlikely to get big enough to make a significant contribution to cooling in the rest of our likely tenure here. The faster-growing ornamental trees, while not ever being significant shade providers, will at lest provide some shade as well as their ornamental value.

I love my heptacodium. I've never got the 'fruit' display, only the flowers. In winter, the color of the trunk and branches displays nicely against the cedar behind it. I particularly like the fact that it flowers in September when there are virtually no other woody flowering things. This is September 25 2009:

Is there a particular ornamental tree that you like that I might not have thought of? What about the issue of something for the patio bed? That's the thing I'm most uncertain about.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 12:38PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Bahia - I missed your comment earlier... So do you think I should put three trees the same instead of two+1? Since there is a bit of a formal feel to the backyard, I thought a symetric planting would work and it would be nice to have both the spring and the late summer/fall flowers. I had thought of perhaps putting a heptacodium in the patio hosta bed but it wouldn't have an evergreen background to show it off. Also, it just ocurred to me - I probably can't put a tree in there anyway because that bed gets huge snow cover in winter as DH clears the patio by snowblowing the snow onto that bed and the path behind it - that would likely severly damage a young tree. So moving the hostas is probably the right answer!

Karin - it ocurred to me after I hit 'submit'... There are restrictions on moving ash wood because of EAB so that might eliminate the possibility of using the wood/selling it. But a neighbour makes furniture so I'll ask him if he might want it.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 2:47PM
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Woody, since you are looking for suggestions for ornamental tree let me offer: Katsura (cercidiphyllum) if you plant three of these in multi-stem form you will not be disappointed' You might also have a look at Malus Echtemeyer a beautiful weeper or Malus red jade as a weeper, only plant one though and if you want to be really daring plant it off perpendicular.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 5:19PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Ink - that Malus sure looks interesting! Connon Nurseries near here has it listed on their web site... I wish I had a bit more room out front. It would be perfect with the 'Randy' and 'Susan' magnolias and serviceberry out there.

A neighbour has a giant Katsura tree on their front lawn. I've not seen the clump ones so I'll have to look at that.

The Malus suggestion reminded me that one of the things I've always wanted in an edible crabapple like we had when I was a kid. Stewed crabapples... Yum...! The last time I saw one was at my SIL's in Banff about 20 years ago. She didn't know that the fruit were edible so I introduced her to the pleasures of clove spiced stewed crabapples :-) Last week I planted a chokecherry near the back fence by the shed. That was also a nostalgic planting... Maybe I should be considering fruit trees. Alexander apples.... I must be getting old - nostalgia is running away with me here!

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 7:35PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I've got badly side-tracked into the fun stuff of considering plants. I need to get back into the 'where' instead of 'what'... So, if I go with smaller, ornamental trees, where would you place them and how many. If I went with a generational tree, where is the best place for it? The ash currently provides great shade and cooling but is definitely a danger to the house now that the tree is old and likely dead or dying. So how do I balance putting one close enough to the house to provide the shade value without being too close and creating a hazard for future owners?

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 9:04PM
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tibs(5/6 OH)

What state are you in? Some towns are taking down Ash (there own trees in the curb strip) before the Emeral Ash borer arrives. Towns in Michigan have been devistated and have had to pay millions to have all their dead ash trees removed and disposed of properly. Check with your State Extension or your Urban forester for info on the Emerald Ash borer in your state. As for Ash wood being valuable, in Ohio you are not allowed to transport Ash wood anywhere (probably totally unenforceable) in an attempt to slow the movement of the ash borer.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 10:14PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

tibs - I'm in southern Ontario, not in the US. But I am aware of the clear-cutting of ashes that has been done in various places. I tried to use that in my arguements with our Town's officials but their response was just that they have no plans to do anything like that here. Looking out the office window this morning at my neighbour to the south's ash that is about 4' on the other side of the fence, it has a large dead area in the trunk that has been there for years but now the wood in the scarred area is looking pale gray and starting to sort of flake. Yesteday I was looking from the end of the driveway at the three ashes in a row - ours, the neighbours' to the north and south. The north one looks like it might have buds swelling but ours and the one to the south that I see from the window don't show signs of buds. Looking at the trunk across the fence, I think that one is probably dead - due to age and general ill health perhaps as much from EAB. But I'm now worried that the one across the fence might come down on us too!

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 8:45AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Woody---if the tree died of emerald ash borers...I think one must burn the wood. Particularly if one is in an area that hasn't been quarantined yet. If one is well within a quarantined area, then one can keep the wood and burn it for one's own use...otherwise...most communities will help you dispose of it.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 9:58AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I'm just waiting for the first lawsuit to challenge those tree retention bylaws. Private property and life damaged/lost due to civic policy intended to retain big trees, when as you say Woody, the objective should be to promote constant renewal. Bahia, what an interesting approach to differentiate between species in imposing a fine, very clever and I'm glad to know about that.

If the wood can still be burned in homes (vs having to be incinerated), then a lot of wood burning fireplace/stove type people are going to love you. I cut down a willow a few years ago (OK, the arborist cut it down, not me) and before putting it on craigslist I looked into its value as firewood, just to see if it was safe - I remembered something about it being kind of explosive and didn't want to be the subject of a lawsuit! I found many interesting sites devoted to the passionate discussion of the burning qualities of different woods, and I seem to remember ash coming out head and shoulders above the others. Especially above willow :-)


    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 12:44PM
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