Keeping Branches

aspenacres(5b BC)January 29, 2012

I have a Douglas Fir that is about 30 feet tall. The branching starts about 3 feet off the ground. The tree acts as both a shade tree and a screen/windbreak. The lower branches are looking sparse so I think they're slowly dying off. I don't want these branches to die. What is the best way to help them survive? The tree is not watered so would watering or fertilizing it help?

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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

Hello Aspen,

lack of light is the main reason trees shed their lower branches. No doubt after hundreds of millions of years many are ready to do this from a genetic stand point as soon as there is more energy return from higher branches. Think of how trees look in the woods.

Is anything shading your tree?

I have always ASSUMED it is more difficult for a tree to get water to the upper branches so I ASSUME water is not an issue here. The PHD types who are on here will chime in with informed opinions shortly.

On the bright side this could be your chance to plant an attractive shrub or two underneath.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 12:26AM
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aspenacres(5b BC)

Hmm, never thought of the shrub idea. Thanks. To the east there are some mature Douglas Firs but other than that, it mostly gets full sun.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 12:42AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

hey ....

good advice so far ...

we can not diagnose disease w/o pic .... though w/o such i would lean towards toronado's thoughts ...

IMHO .. mature large trees do NOT 'need' fert ... yours has been there for probably 30 years.. and its feeder roots could be 30 feet away from the tree ... and i just dont see how you would know where to fert it if need be.. and if it is near any lawn that is fertilized.. it is getting/taking whatever it needs/wants ...

i see another post about your aspen grove problems.. and wonder how this tree fits within your description of the area with the grove trees ... and any other poplars you might have around.. and the facts surrounding if this tree is in a campground ... and somehow abused by such [like soil compaction] ....

water never hurts.. but again.. short of some TX like drought.. i would tend to think it gets what it needs ... i would never suspect that BC would be a drought zone.. but i have some vague recollection that someone here on GW.. who is in some area of BC that is not what i think of when i think BC ... any chance that is/was you???

a quick call to your county soil conservation/AG or extension office [or the providential equivalent] .. might get you a quick answer if there is some plague rolling thru your county in regard to doug fir ...

doug fir .. depending on which one it is.. is very temperamental in my z5 .. but then on the other hand.. it would NOT have made it 30 years.. if it had major zone issues ...

more facts and a pic, if possible ..

ken

ps: the rockies run thru the native area of doug fir ... the ones on the west side.. are much more foo foo in regard to z5 .. compared to the other side .... i believe this was addressed recently in the conifer forum ...

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 8:13AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

let me rephrase what i meant to say ...

i think a 30 year old tree can 'feed' itself ..

we need to discover if this is simply a maturity issue ... or whether there is something going on..

especially before we willy nilly go throwing fertilizer around it .. a stressed plant.. will not stop being stressed by feeding it ...

ken

ps: by maturity issue.. i refer you to any old forest.. where most of the tree canopies are 50 feet up in the air.. they lose lower branches as they age.. for a variety of reasons.. many of which.. have nothing to do with disease/problems ...

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 10:31AM
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aspenacres(5b BC)

The tree is on a hill next to the campground so it gets no root damage. It's next to a large rock pile but the pile is older than the tree is. It is dry here in the southern interior but in the hills (where the tree is) it gets a bit more rain. This is a pseudotsuga menziisi var. glauca. We have lots of Douglas firs which seem to be healthy. I'll get a pic but it may take awhile. Oh and yes it is in an Aspen grove but I keep the aspens under control so the fir can remain dominant.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 9:02PM
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wisconsitom

BC is a big place! Has everything from bona fide rainforests to semi-deserts. But no, fertilizer/water is not likely to significantly influence this situation. As already stated, the trees are just doing what they're programmed to do.

+oM

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 10:53PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

If you can get tall Oregon grape to grow on your site it would be a good choice to try to furnish the base of the tree with.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 4:15PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

pretty cryptic bboy ...

what does grape have to do with doug fir .. ??? enlighten me oh grape sage ... i mean great sage ...

or is it some west coast super secret???

aspen = poplar [close enough] ... and both are a pox on your house .. explain how you keep them tamed to the benefit of the glauca??? how do you know what is going on underground in regard to the aspen inflicting root issues on the DF????

look forward to the picture...

ken

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 4:54PM
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aspenacres(5b BC)

I have no control of the roots but trim the aspens branches back a little to allow space for the fir.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 7:57PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

>On the bright side this could be your chance to plant an attractive shrub or two underneath>If you can get tall Oregon grape to grow on your site it would be a good choice to try to furnish the base of the tree with>what does grape have to do with doug fir .. ???

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 8:41PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Ken, you know that bboy is referring to Mahonia aquifolium, don't you. Oregon Holly Grape 'might' be a more recognized common name.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 11:08PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

hey rhiz ... no i dont.. and that is just about as cryptic as his answer ...

i am too sick to google it all .. anyone care to explain what a grape .. or a holly ... have to do with a conifer in an aspen grove???

AAcres ... as i know it.. aspen are a colonizing tree ... which will spread around a central tree ... creating the grove you so love.. the 'invasive' root system [and i use the term LOOSELY] ... to create its own grove.. MIGHT basically kill other things within it .. as it out competes the invader for available cultural requirements ...

as such.. i dont know if simply opening the canopy.. or trimming a few branches.. will give the doug fir enough to compete with the grove ... we simply dont know what is going on underground ...

its all speculation... i dont do aspen.. i dont live in BC ... and apparently i dont know what grape nor holly have to do with it all ...

perhaps this flu has made me a dullard ... or else peeps closer the the west coast are simply talking in tongues .... and you all understand each other perfectly ...

a picture of your DFir might really help ...

good luck with it all

ken

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 9:10AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

..... perhaps this flu has made me a dullard .....

OK, Ken - here we go. OP's tree (Douglas Fir) is losing lower branches and has naked nether regions. Someone suggested this might be an opportunity to grow a shrub under the aforementioned tree. Someone else suggested using Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) which will put up with dry shade. The common names are just a cause for confusion, as usual. It's neither a grape nor a holly, just has superficial similarities in the fruit and foliage, as I'm sure you know really.

Hope you'll be feeling better soon. I have the feeling you're getting bored stuck indoors. :)

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 1:14PM
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aspenacres(5b BC)

I found some old pics on my computer. The first pic shows the tree on the left. The Aspen closest to it died and is now gone.

Here is a link that might be useful: Douglas Fir

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 8:44PM
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aspenacres(5b BC)

Sorry, that's the second pic. The first pic is better. He's a more recent picture of the tree's crown.

Here is a link that might be useful: Tree's Crown

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 8:51PM
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aspenacres(5b BC)

Noe that I've posted pics, what do you think?

    Bookmark   February 11, 2012 at 9:24PM
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wisconsitom

Well Double A, the tree looks pretty good to me although I'm not seeing it's "nether regions" in those pics. But what really strikes me is that it appears that you live in a very cool area.

+oM

    Bookmark   February 11, 2012 at 9:52PM
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aspenacres(5b BC)

It's the very lowest branches I'm talking about. We've noticed a bit of tussock moth in the area but they seem to be decreasing every year. They haven't done much damage at all so far. Do you mean cool as in looks good or cool as in cold?

    Bookmark   February 11, 2012 at 10:45PM
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wisconsitom

Both! I tend to like areas of the world that do get cold. Much like where I live. There are wonderful forests in many places in the wold, but my favorites tend to be from cold, northern areas.

+oM

    Bookmark   February 12, 2012 at 1:22PM
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aspenacres(5b BC)

Thanks. The campsite has been around since the early 90's but I added that area on the hill in 2007. It was a huge mess of years of rotting, fallen aspens but after a lot of work I got it cleared. When spring comes I'll have to post some pics of the area in the gallery.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2012 at 4:48PM
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Beeone(4 N. Wyo.)

I'm having trouble fully picturing the tree you are talking about--The crown is very nice, but looks much more substantial than the nether regions of the trees in the other pictures.

However, those pictures of the lower parts of the trees look typical of trees that have grown in a competition for light with relatively sparse branching and loss of lower limbs where light is much harder to come by than higher up in the tree.

To preserve the lower branches, I would think you would need to thin out the surrounding trees much more and remove the competition for light at the lower levels. The remaining branches could than become productive and would probably fill in.

Very nice location, by the way.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 1:23AM
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aspenacres(5b BC)

Thanks for the help and the compliment. That makes sense about sunlight. I guess I'll thin out the surrounding trees. It's time this tree is treated like an adult tree.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 12:19AM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Here's some Tall Oregon Grape growing under a Doug Fir in my garden. The Mahonia aquifoilium is about 10 ft. tall and blooms in the latter part of March in my garden.
Mike

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 8:41AM
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aspenacres(5b BC)

I don't think I've seen an Oregon Grape that tall. That's a good suggestion. Really nice looking garden by the way.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 6:47PM
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