Archives for posts with tag: the greater good

A recent article by Pamela Doan in the June 21, 2013 issue of The Paper (see “When It’s Okay to Kill a Plant”) led me to some further reflections on tree removal.  I share the writer’s angst over removing a tree—or any other plant in the garden, for that matter—and, like the author, I also agonize over the decision (see, for example, February 6, 2013).  I agree that there are several factors to consider and believe that removing a tree should not be undertaken lightly.

One issue she did not address is that often, removing a tree improves the conditions for the trees that remain.  For example, we live in a deeply wooded area where there is little to check the growth of the trees.  Each year, thousands of maple seed whirligigs twirl to the ground and many, if not most, of them germinate.  I (and my aching back) know this because hundreds of seedlings pop up in our gardens and patio areas every spring.  I must pull them out like weeds lest the house be swallowed up.

A proportionally larger number of seedlings sprout in the woods where there is no one to pull them out.  Instead, they take root firmly, continue to grow unabated and, with the passing years, become taller and larger.  They all crowd together like riders on a subway train, producing a dense canopy of sun-seeking branches above and a deeply-shaded understory below.  Commuters lucky enough to get a seat on the subway during rush hour know how it feels to be beneath the tangle of outstretched limbs.

The trees produce elongated trunks as they push their leafy tops higher and higher in search of a clear view of the sun (imagine the subway riders standing on tiptoe to read the advertisements that form a frieze along the sides of each car).  The trees wind up over-tall, spindly and top-heavy.  Aesthetically, they are lacking and the inefficiency of their shape cannot be good for their health.  Also, the preponderance of maple trees crowd out other varieties, reducing the diversity of species (probably 3 of 4 or 8 of 10 trees around us is a maple).

In a better world (or, at least, a better woods), I would take the same approach to the maple trees as I do with the radishes and beets:  thin early, thin often.  A larger spacing would lead to fuller trees that would not need to grow as high to gather their solar radiation (and they would look better) while still shading the forest floor.  Fewer maples would allow other tree varieties—oak, elm, poplar, even evergreens—a chance to increase their numbers and would make the entire woods less susceptible to harmful diseases or insects.

Like the crowding on rush-hour mass transit, it is a situation that is not easily changed.  I have often surmised that we could spend a week with a chainsaw, pruning and culling, and hardly make a noticeable difference in the local population density, never mind the entire woods or beyond.  Instead, we will take it tree by tree and consider the possible beneficial impacts—incremental and local though they may be—that could result from a tree’s removal.

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As discussed before (see, for example, June 10, 2012, part 2), the trees around our house and garden are constantly growing and because they are so closely spaced, they are growing not outwards but upwards.  The result?  Their canopy is getting higher and denser and we are falling ever more deeply into the shade.

Last year, I observed that the solar panels on the roof (with which we heat the swimming pool) do not get any direct sunlight until sometime between 10:00 and 11:00 in the morning and move back into the shade starting as early as 2:00 pm; by 4:00 pm, the upper panels are completed shielded by trees.  This greatly diminishes their effectiveness at heating the pool water.

The planters have a longer solar day (see June 20, 2012) but even in the garden, shade begins to have an impact as early as 4:00 pm as the shadows start to creep across the west planter.  The area to the west of the planters, where we plan to grow squash this year, is fully shaded by 3:00 pm.  This may not be enough sunshine for a vegetable as needy as zucchini.

There’s not much we can do about increasing the morning sun—all of the trees to the east of us are on a neighbor’s property—but we do control the woods to the west.  In particular, there are two tall maples just outside the pool fence that are casting most of the afternoon shadows.  They will have to go.  We are fortunate that the ground slopes down steeply just beyond our pool and many of the trees that might otherwise be a problem need not be considered.

Widening the exposure of the solar panels, on the other hand, will require more drastic action.  The main culprits in their obstruction are the old oak tree that hangs over the west side of our house and a huge maple about twenty feet beyond it to the west.  Each is very tall and has already lost its lower branches.  And because they are on the edge of the woods, the two trees have reached outwards with their upper limbs, unlike their more constrained siblings located further into the woods.

Both of these trees have caused us trouble in the past:  We had the maple cabled many years ago to restrain a splitting trunk; the oak tree most recently dropped two large branches on the house and patio after a snowstorm a year and a half ago (see October 30, 2011, part 2).  So far, we have limited our approach to pruning but at this point, any pruning we might do would leave only barren (and funky-looking) trunks.

No, if we do anything they must also be removed.  But doing so will leave a noticeable void behind.  I’ve been resisting it for years because I know I will feel their loss.  A ranger at Yellowstone National Park once asked us (while we were gathered around a campfire) whether we had ever had an experience with rocks.  It took me a few years to grasp what she was getting at—the idea that the natural environment has a presence, an identity—and even if I have not had any experiences with trees, per se, I definitely feel their presence.  Losing these two will be a sad event.

And it will be a big project.  We brought in our long-time tree man, Jerry, to take a look at all of the trees we are planning to take down.  He’s done a lot of work here (see, for example, October 31, 2011) but this would be larger than any other takedown he has done for us.  The two maples at the end of the pool will simply be cut and allowed to fall down the hill (much more difficult and dangerous than it sounds) while the larger maple and oak will have to be carefully broken down, branch by branch and section by section.  Removing the wood once the trees are down will be a major undertaking all by itself.

It will be a great sacrifice but I think it will be for the greater good (of the house, garden and environment).