The subject of planting trees comes to me each year as we enter into early fall because it is the perfect time to plant both deciduous and evergreen trees as they enter into dormancy. And, lord knows, I have done my share of planting trees through the years, even though I bought a property that was more than half wooded.
The idea of planting small, manageable green things and watching them develop over a period of time into sculptures of beauty reaching to the skies in graceful forms, providing shade, has always appealed to me.
When I saw an ad in The New York Times for what turned out to be my dream house in the country, I called the owner and asked if it had privacy, noting that I preferred not seeing any neighbors. He answered, “No matter which window I look out of, all I see is trees.”
How wonderful, I thought, considering that when I looked out of my window in the city, all I saw was one scrawny Gingko that had been hit repeatedly by cars vying for the parking space in front of it. The last time I visited the old neighborhood, I noted that it had finally lost the battle to the cars and hadn’t been replaced.
But my one and a half acre property in upper Westchester was laden with generous thickets of sugar maples, honey locusts, ash, black walnuts, cherries and many other species I never bothered to look up. Besides that, former owners had planted some old dogwood, ornamental flowering trees and a long row of hemlock.
Having grown up in an urban setting with no trees, I just enjoyed looking at them – often reminding myself of Joyce Kilmer’s poetic turn, “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree,” and becoming somewhat of an expert in shade gardening.
It wasn’t long, however, before the reality set in. I learned that trees, especially the big ones, can fall! Or, they get sick and have to be removed.
As recently as this past weekend when I was returning from vacation, I couldn’t turn on to my street because a large maple on the edge of my corner property, which had looked in perfect health, fell across the road, taking with it the telephone, electric and cable wires with it. Thankfully the utilities companies, then my wonderful local highway department, took care of the damage, otherwise my wallet would have been set back quite a bit.
I can’t even calculate the amount of money I’ve spent through the years to have fallen or diseased trees removed from my property. Early in the ‘70s, during a very wet season, my dogwoods were all wiped out by a fungus infection. In the 1980s, my hemlocks fell to woolly adelgid. Then, a number of my largest maples was infested with thrips and slowly withered away. One evening we heard a thunderous noise as a half dead pine fell just inches from our house. Each calamity involved the very expensive proposition of dealing with tree removal. I started to feel cursed.
Having become good friends with my tree service provider, I asked him why it seemed that I had such bad luck with trees. He answered simply, “It’s just because you have so many of them!”
If there’s any moral to this story, I guess it would be to consider the responsibilities that go with a wooded property and, if a property is lacking trees and you want some shade, consider their variety and manageability when planting and their distance from the house.
There are certain trees that have been very popular either for their beauty or fast growing habits that, from experience, I would not recommend. Chief among them are the weeping willow, the Barlett pear and the white pine.
Most people know that the weeping willow’s roots are ready to suck all water out of the soil and don’t like anything else planted near them, so unless you have a wetland area on your property and lots of space, avoid it.
Many homeowners and professional gardeners regard the Bradford pear as desirable for its pyramidal shape and lovely white flowers in spring, but that characteristic shape also makes it very fragile and its branches tend to break during storms or strong winds.
The same goes for the Eastern white pine. I have had bad luck with them in that, while they grow fast, they shouldn’t be planted close to the road because they suffer from salt burn and, further, they suffer damage in winter when their branches become laden with snow and break.
My favorite tree plantings have been the flowering ornamentals – particularly my crabapples and weeping cherries – that are contained in size and offer the joy of flowers in the spring, greenery until late into the fall, and not a lot of clean up to worry about as you put your garden to bed. They offer color, some shade, and no danger of a big fall to cause damage and an expensive take-away. The best of all worlds.
Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.