Good Tree for Climbing?

beckbunchSeptember 8, 2007

Totally new to this forum and fairly new to gardening too! I was wondering if anyone has suggestions for a fast-growing tree that would be safe (or as safe as it can be!) for a child to climb?

We live in western Washington in zone 5. We have several different areas where we could put a tree, but the one I'm leaning toward (because it's in easy view of most of the windows) is in full sun and is quite exposed and has sandy soil. There's a decorative concrete walkway a few feet awya from where I'd plant the tree so I'd need to find something that doesn't have invasive roots. So, in summary, is there anything:

*fast growing


*with sturdy, low branches

*can grow in sandy soil

*likes the pacific northwest climate??

My youngest is 2 years-old and I'd love to have something she could climb before college. Any ideas?

Thank you, Eileen

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The best tree I have seen for climbing is Ficus benjamina. Forget about growing it outside of zone 9 though. The only tree I can really rthink of for cooler zones that has wide spreading horizontal branches is post oak.I'm not certain how it would do in on the west coast as it's native range is confined to mostly the southeast.

It's hard to tell from this pic but the branches are near horizontal. If they were lower down, I'd climb it myself. I do have many fond memories of climbing trees in my childhood which is probably why I turned out to be a tree nut.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 8:34AM
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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

A wide spreading tree over here just begging to be climbed is Beech,(Fagus sylvatica) but it takes years to get a good size. If I were you i'd buy a climbing frame!

    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 8:50AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

we just had a 10 year old air lifted out of the subdivision ... climbing a tree to fetch a cat .. minutes after his mother told him to get out of the tree ... compression fracture of C1 .... very lucky to not have permanent damage ... i am very close to cutting down the 20 year old apple tree so my 9 and 5 year old wont do the same ....

that said.. frankly ... if the kids are already of any age.. its a little late to be 'starting' a tree for climbing ... the fast growing ones do not grow low.. they rocket for the sky ... and you will have a hard time training them for climbing ...

and even the fast ones take a few years to get going ....

i recommend an engineered play scape.. for instant gratification and some protection for the kids ... though of course.. it will cost a lot more than one tree ...

good luck


    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 8:55AM
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While I'm not a fan of 'em and would not ever likely plant one - and at maturity, they really require a LARGE space - my kids thoroughly enjoyed a young weeping willow that was in the backyard of the house we lived in when they were 2 & 4. Fun to play under, and a little kid can climb in them quite easily, as well.
A good mulberry, like 'Illinois Everbearing' would be good, too - fast-growing, good branch structure, and VERY tasty berries - the kids'll love 'em (you may not, due to the stains, but some people are too @n@l about stuff like that.
Ken may be right about it being almost too late, if your youngest is 2. We planted a couple of Illinois Everbearings mulberries when my youngest was about that age. They were big/sturdy enough for her to climb in by the time she was 8-10, but often by that time, kids have lost any desire to climb a tree. She would climb up there to eat berries, and to shake 'em out for me. At 13, she still climbs up there to hide when she and her friends are playing 'spotlight tag' at night here in the summertime.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 9:45AM
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I remember climbing a weeping willow and spending many hours throughout my childhood in that tree, fantasizing about anything and everything.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 10:14AM
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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

I wouldn't recommend climbing a willow unless it was very old as the branches tend to be very brittle,snap dead easy,typical of fast growing trees. I think if you plant a tree that's sturdy enough now for your 2 year old to grow up with he will be 42 before he gets to climb it!

    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 10:21AM
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If a weeping willow is too old, it won't be climb-worthy. The weeping willow was planted a couple years before I existed and I was playing on it in my youth. Its very old now(nearing 30 years,lol), big limbs have fallen off, and have since rotted away. In the photo link I provide, you can see the willow on the right of my replacement tree.

Here is a link that might be useful: Weeping willow, climbable by children and adults, alike.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 11:20AM
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It definitely would be safer to instead build a tree fort and surround it with 3-4" caliper sycamores. It would be like swiss family robinson from day one, no waiting required and your kids will have memories for a lifetime.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 11:36AM
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Hickory! Try hardwood trees... But they don't grow so fast although they're the safest to climb. There's some good conifers but I can't recall the name of the one I used to climb when I was younger.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 11:58AM
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treeguy123(AL 7b)

>American sycamore - 2 to 6 feet a year when established
>Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra) - can grow 2 ft when established
>Shumard Oak - 1 to 2 feet a year when established
>Red Maple - 1 to 2 feet a year when established
>White Pine - 2+ feet a year when established after a few years of slower growth

>Sweetgum (not very good tree because of shallow roots plus spiky seed balls)

Those are ones I know are good for climbing when I was a little kid and grow fast. All of the Above are native to the eastern U.S.
There are probably also other trees native to the Western U.S. that are good for climbing.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 2:33PM
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Oregon White Oak (Quercus garryana).

    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 3:37PM
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Thank you for the great advice! We visited a home once years ago that had a fabulous climbing tree in their front yard. If I remember correctly, I think it was an apple tree. I'm guessing they take many years to get to that great gnarled look.

We have a big leaf maple that's growing practically right on top of an outbuilding. I think most of the root may be under the concrete slab, so I don't know if it can be moved, but we'll give it a try. Since it's free, we may try that first and if it doesn't transplant, I can now go to the nursery with some great ideas!

Thanks, Eileen

    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 3:45PM
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Firs are good for climbing, branches like a ladder, but only if (a) they're in full sun so the bottom branches are stout enough to use, and (b) not too fast-growing. A fast-growing fir (e.g. Grand Fir) will have the whorls of branches a metre apart, and that isn't easy to climb. They also need to be 20 years old or more to be worth climbing.


    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 4:09PM
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When I was growing up, we had neighbors that had apple trees and all the kids in the neighborhood loved climbing them. I just cut down one apple tree in my yard (due to storm damage - still have one left.) My nieces were horrified. They loved climbing that tree. The branches are lower and easy to climb. Not sure how fast they grow.

One downside to apple trees are the falling apples and the bees they attract. Not good for the little ones. Luckily this would only be an issue for several months of the year.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 10:17PM
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My neighbors had two ornamental cherries - 'Yoshino' is the cultivar - and the trees were favorites with the kids. And the trees were not much older than the kids themselves.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 10:21PM
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terrene(5b MA)

The last house that I lived in had a lovely little fruit tree orchard in the backyard when I moved in, planted by the previous owner of the house about 15 years earlier. All of the trees were pretty good for climbing but one in particular was a beautiful Yellow Delicious Apple tree that was about 15 feet high. It had thick lateral branches that spread out nearly horizontally in a beautiful, balanced way. PERFECT for climbing, especially younger children, and several children who visited enjoyed climbing it.

Then, a few years later, a freak storm came through and blew over the largest tree in the yard - a 50-year old Silver Maple that was at least 75 feet tall growing near the edge of a swamp. When it landed the crown of the tree SMASHED the fruit orchard to smithereens, including the Yellow Delicious apple tree that was the most perfect climbing tree I could imagine for children. :(

Fortunately, a nice apple tree and a large Black cherry were far enough away to be spared, and they were pretty good climbing trees too. :)

    Bookmark   September 9, 2007 at 6:51PM
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What you need is a trash tree, a fast-growing tree that your children can enjoy & that you won't take too seriously.

When I was little, we had a Mimosa that was a perfect little-girl tree;
I could climb it easily, since it started branching close to the ground, & the gossamer flowers (I thought they looked like tutus & I called them "ballerina flowers"; a friend once told me she called them "tickle flowers") smelled divine.

Just remembering it brings a smile to my face:
I spent many happy hours in that tree, & if I had a small child at home today, I'd plant a Mimosa right this minute.

They do drop flowers, & they don't live forever...
so plant a longer-lived tree at the same time.

& take lots of pictures.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2007 at 11:48AM
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Trouble with fast-growing trash trees is that they can break up and drop branches . . . not too good if the kid is standing on the branch at the time!


    Bookmark   September 10, 2007 at 2:28PM
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Fast-growing trees don't just have their branches explode, things like willows are actually quite flexible. If a branch breaks, so what, I would fall.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2007 at 3:58PM
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