Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Tree in a Tight Spot by Rebecca Anderson

Winter is the time of year when I'm planning my landscape improvements for spring. This year I've got a new area to design because we had a tree removed last fall.  There was a mature red maple (Acer rubrum) planted in a strip between our driveway and the neighbor's. This 40 foot tall, 24-inch diameter tree was confined to a concrete-free zone of about 36 square feet.  Looking at CSU's formulas for calculating for rooting space, the tree's roots probably occupied an area close to 4,000 square feet.  Of course it had to be sending roots under driveways and sidewalks, but those roots under the hardscape didn't have the access to water and oxygen that roots in an open area would have.
When we bought our home in 2006, the tree was already showing signs of decline. The leaves were yellow and sparse compared to other neighborhood maples. Its leaves dropped earlier in the fall and it never showed the red color characteristic of its species. I had the tree evaluated a couple of times by arborists to consider its options. Sprays, trunk injections, and soil treatments were discussed, but the theme was consistent. All treatments were bandaids that would not fix the underlying problem: I had a tree that wasn't suited for our region planted in an inappropriate location.

We maintained the tree as best we could, trying to keep it watered appropriately and trimming out the branches that died each year. Then the drought of 2012 and the late freeze in May 2013 served as the final blows. All the bark fell off and even more branches died.  We decided to have the tree removed in the fall so a heavy winter snow load wouldn't cause a catastrophic failure.
If your landscape dreams include adding a tree in spring, I hope you learn a few things from my experience. Select a tree that is suited for the Front Range. CSU's Front RangeTree Recommendation List is a good place to start. Consider how big your tree is going to be at maturity and plan a space where it won't be crowded. Talk to your county extension agent, a master gardener, or arborist about good tree planting methods. Trees are a very valuable addition to any landscape and they will serve for generations if they have a good start.