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The Problems with Trees

Dianne and Gary Westlake

For those of you from new housing developments pining for full-grown trees, we have a few concerns you might want to consider. Sure they cool the house and yard; sure they attract all sorts of bird and animal life; sure they provide you with places to hang your swings and hammocks but they do have their dark side.

Probably one of the worst offenders is the ubiquitous Norway Maple. The landscaper folks have trucked these into our neighbourhoods in vast numbers for generations (green ones, red ones, and even little brown ones). They plant them when the trees are small in our boulevards with little regard for their eventual girth and grandeur. They plant them under the power wires where the hydro crews chop them into weird shapes in order to keep them away from the lines. And they plant them in our tiny yards knowing full well that eventually they will eclipse the sun and suck every last life-giving drop of moisture and goodness from our gardens. Thatís not the only problem you have when one of these monsters comes to stay. Every spring the flowers, which on the trees are nothing to look at, drop onto your drive like a carpet waiting for your attention. We realize that reproduction is important and do not begrudge the trees making this attempt. But a polite tree would drop all keys at once. Instead this one does it in three rounds. First come the tiny keys of the infertile flowers. Then a couple of weeks later the medium keys fall probably because they were inadequate in some way. Later in the summer come the large keys holding the seeds ready to burst forth into new trees everywhere. In August, the leaves get large nasty black spots which don't hurt the tree but are unsightly. What can we say about living through autumn with Norway Maples? Leaves abound and form impenetrable mats in the fall rains. They don't even work in the compost very well unless ground up. We are not sure where Norway Maples belong, probably in Norway but it is certainly not here.

Pines are evergreen, right? They just sit there looking pretty? Wrong! "Evergreen" just means that the tree is green all year. It does not mean that it keeps all its needles. Instead pines drop dead needles more or less continuously Every spring, environment departments get calls about a mysterious yellow powder washing up on the shores of our lakes. This usually turns out to be pine pollen. And then they shed cones all through the summer. So pines do drop things too.

Paper bark birch is a symbol for Canada's forests. With that in mind, several years ago we planted one and have had nothing but problems. The leaves got birch miners. The tree always has looked sickly. Finally after the top of it died we have given up. Perhaps these trees are not meant for urban living and should be admired in the bush from afar. We are taking it out and will replace it with an Amur Maple. If we have done our research well, it will turn out to be hardy, not too large, and have great colour in the fall.

We have a stand of black locust, the flowers of which smell wonderful in early June. However, the penalty we pay for this is the late June "snowfall" of white petals and seedlings in our lawn. We have a couple of black walnuts that are also beautiful trees. When the nuts ripen, this becomes a squirrel buffet. We don't harvest walnuts except perhaps the few the squirrels wing at us or plant in our pots. We may have to get hard hats to do our gardening if this keeps up.

Smaller trees have leaves on all branches, but older trees start abandoning branches on the interior of the canopy. First the leaves all die and fall off, and eventually the branch falls too. We hope it's not on someone's car or worse.

Now that we have gotten these concerns out about our struggle, we feel much better. So those of you wishing you had large trees like we do, remember it's not all fun and games. Perhaps you should borrow one of ours for a while and maybe you will change your mind.