In the Garden | Arbor Day tree and shrub distribution is April 13

Bonnie Orr, master gardener

This is not a scary season just because Halloween was couple of weeks ago. However, it is the season where you can be tempted to make decisions that will haunt you for years to come.

We have had a radiant autumn. Haven’t the fall colors been beautiful? Susceptible people drive through neighborhoods and see a particularly lovely tree, or an arbor collection and think, "I have got to have it. I have always loved that tree!” Fast forward and those warm feelings can sometimes turn as cold as the season.

Master Gardeners often are called upon to provide solace to a homeowner whose tree most likely should be removed because it is the wrong tree in the wrong place. It occurs for a number of reasons. First is infatuation with a particular tree. Second is the feeling that an empty space must be filled immediately with trees that hopefully will grow very fast. The third reason is the most critical: trees are predetermined by genetics to grow to a certain size, and when mature, say after 12-20 years, they will have outgrown their space.

The size issue is a big one in North Central Washington. We have so many people who make their living around trees and have mastered fruit-tree pruning skills. So people are available to top a tree, or to limb it up or to lower the center of it. Frankly, this does not alter the final size of the tree. It just makes it cranky because cutting off the top, or the center or the lower branches causes two problems.

The first is that the tree is made vulnerable to disease and insect predation because of large wounds in the wood. Second, the tree responds to cutting by creating vast numbers of smaller, whippier branches that are not as securely attached to the tree and can more readily be blown off in a wind storm.

The final word is determine how big the mature tree is before you plant it in the site that will allow it to grow to its natural size. A number of favorite trees, especially conifers, have been bred to be a smaller or compact size when mature, and these specimens might be a best choice for a smaller yard.

The second-most prevalent problem with the wrong tree in the wrong place is the urge to overplant with special species to fill in a newly landscaped yard. One of my friends is facing two dilemmas at the front of his house. Growing in an area 10-by-20 feet are mature Hinoki False Cypress, Western Juniper, Yew and Engelmann Spruce. This forest grows right up against the house and obscures a beautiful rock wall.

The most serious dilemma is the need to consider firewise landscaping. The conifers grow right under the eaves and would guide a fire up into the attic. Worse, they extend beyond the roof and are 12 feet from the fireplace chimney. These trees were beautiful specimens years ago when they were planted by the homeowner who did not consider the mature size nor the liabilities of the wrong tree in the wrong place.

Infatuation causes people to make unwise tree selections. They do not consider size nor maintenance. 

If there is a tree in your future, do your homework and ask the WSU Master Gardeners for suggestions for the right tree in the right place.


A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Bonnie Orr is one of four columnists featured.