Keep future in mind when planting trees | Sowin 'n' the trowel

When we first moved into our house 17 years ago, I could lie in bed on the second floor, look out my window and count the stars.

Now all I can count are the needles on the evergreen trees that ring my back yard.

In the front yard, I could set up my telescope and explore the shifting bands of color on Jupiter and even observe some of its moons. Now all I can see is a wall of green that reaches into the sky.

My adolescent mini forest has thrived and matured, but I can hardly blame the native Douglas firs, western red cedars or western hemlocks.

They’re just doing what they’re meant to do: grow tall and broad, filter carbon dioxide from the air and produce oxygen, store rain water and cool the land, and create a habitat for wildlife.

If I were so inclined, I could harvest the lumber and build myself a second house as well as a flotilla of dug-out canoes. But I’m not so inclined. I’ll let this burgeoning little forest and its battalion of birds that wake me up every morning at dawn with their raucous birdie reveille remain.

This isn’t to say I’ve never cut down any of my trees. There have been a couple of dangerous trees that were damaged or deformed and posed a threat to life and limb.

These have been removed, as have more than a few that blocked sunlight to my vegetable garden.

I do cut back low hanging branches from time to time, and in as gentle a way as possible beat back the forest so I can actually circumnavigate my property and enjoy my yard.

We all get along. We’re cool.

But one thing you won’t see me do is plant a Douglas fir, western red cedar or western hemlock.

I have enough ,and there isn’t any room for more at my place at this time. A chunk of people in my family have lived into their 90s and beyond, and if I plant any more of these fast-growing native giants, I’d just have to hobble out there with my chain saw in another 20 years or so to let the light back in.

A Douglas fir can easily top 150 or even 200 feet over its hundreds-of-years lifespan and will get there by growing up to two feet a year. Take a look at the bark on a large Douglas fir and the big fissures that mar its surface.  Those are essentially stretch marks.

I guess what I’m trying to get across is that when you plant a tree, you’re not just planting it for now or the next few years, you’re planting it for decades to come. How fast does it grow and how tall and wide will it get? Are you planting it to enjoy now, or for your children and grandchildren to enjoy after you’re gone?

Even if you can’t be there to see it in a thousand years, it still may be worth it to plant a giant redwood. But if you live in a condo, that empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa) that can grow up to 15 feet a year may not be a wise choice for your container garden.

Ah, but where will you be in 15 years, and do you really care?


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