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Little courtyard, big tree

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#1 Janet Macunovich

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 08:39 PM

This came in by email and we're hoping to have the writer join us here since this topic is in play in about 3 homes out of 5 that we see!

I contacted an arborist about my weeping cherry tree that is too large for its space. She took a look and concurred, adding that there could be possible root damage, indicated by something black at the base of the trunk just above the soil line. It also has a large split that runs from the ground up to where the major branches begin to spread out.

We decided it would be counter-productive to spend time and money to drastically prune it back as it would require this kind of attention every year to keep it small. Is a tree service you could recommend, reputable as well as reasonable in their pricing.

I have removed many perennials from the area I care about and relocated to other areas temporarily until the upheaval of having the tree out, and I assume the roots out, too, is over with.

Can you recommend a small ornamental tree that does well in more shade than sun? The little area the current tree is in faces north; it only receives direct sun the latter part of the afternoon, and then, some of that is filtered eventually by other trees. The soil is pretty good, not well-draining, but not clay either. This is where I grow lots of hostas, toad lily, ferns, astilbe, heuchera, columbine, sweet woodruff and sedums. - D.B. -BilickiTreeS.jpg

Here are some top-of-the-head ideas. Let's see if some of the other designers in our Moderator team and Membership have ideas to add.

Well, now that I wrote "ideas" I realize I have more questions than ideas.

Question one. Why a tree, there? Not a single tree I can think of other than a dwarf Japanese maple, one of the green weeping laceleaf types, will stay in scale in that space. And the maples will end up looking like shrubs without regular pruning with an eye to sculpting them as small trees...
That space speaks to me of tree-like shrubs, species that are not at the upper end of "large" in shrub-dom, at that. A nicely formed Clethra. A well branched panicle hydrangea that doesn't have too heavy a flower, like Tardiva. I'm imagining things with light colored bark and flowers, to stand out in front of the brick.

But since I don’t know "why a tree" I can't go much further, yet.

Maybe someone else who looks at this won't have the block I do, and start us down another track!

Oh - an arborist to take the tree down. Why an arborist? It's not something that requires knowing the tree but a manual labor thing. A gardener and a saw can take this tree down.

#2 DBilicki


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Posted 16 March 2012 - 09:22 PM

Good point, I guess we could take the tree down ourselves. But what about the large roots that lie partway above the surface of the soil? And the rootball? Is this a situation when you would have someone come in with a stump grinder? Not sure how that works. Wouldn't that totally mess up the soil in that garden bed? Would appreciate comments from anyone who has had experience with this.

#3 Guest_dcsmith796_*

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Posted 17 March 2012 - 10:55 AM

If you don't need a tree there, I'd just cut it down as close to the ground as possible (I believe this is known as the Kurkowski Cut style of weeping cherry pruning). Try to make the stump as low to the ground and flat/level as possible. Then you can plop a nice, tall, colorful container on it for a few years until the rot sets in - no grinding required. If it's on the north side, your shade plants should be fine (maybe better!) without it, right? If you really wanna go all out, and there's an outlet nearby so you don't need an electrician, you could even poke in a couple of low-voltage spotlights on the pot without spending too much coin - less than having an arborist oversee the tree removal, probably. Wouldn't that look great from the street? And even from inside if you light both sides.

If it were my house, that little streak of sunlight on the north end of that west-facing wall would tempt me to try Zephirine Drouhin espaliered up it. It would bring a pink similar to the cherry back into the mix, as well as a little height, without trying to replace the tree. Unless some deciduous tree blocks that sunlight in the summer. Then it won't work.

#4 DBilicki


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Posted 20 March 2012 - 11:32 AM

Hmm, I like the container idea. I also like the idea of just cutting the stump as close to the ground as possible and just letting nature take its course, that would eliminate the chaos that would ensue if we tried to chop it out of the ground.

I can picture the rose espaliered on that wall but there isn't enough sunlight in that spot. Only the very last sun of the day reaches it, and there are many trees it ends up being filtered through. Thanks for the ideas.

#5 Janet Macunovich

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 02:18 AM

Steven calls it one-cut pruning. And we take stumps out only if we need to. Then we dig around and cut roots and can often pry up the stump -- so poorly, shallowly rooted are our landscape plants.
You can have someone grind the stump,or rent a stump grinder if you want to cut it down to ground level or just below. Can't usually plant anything large where a stump's been ground, though, as the grinder rarely gets all the wood out, just makes it less of a tripping hazard. So you can't dig far enough down to plant a big root ball or large pot.

An email question came in yesterday from someone who must have been here, first, to see your photo, DBilicki. He wrote, "I thought weeping cherry was a small tree."
I figured I might as well post a few photos here where the cherry is the starter topic, so people realize your tree did not do anything out of the ordinary in getting that big.

I would seriously consider growing the panicle hydrangea there. Or training a climbing hydrangea to a pretty post. Doesn't take much work, and only annual pruning. I'll see if I can find a photo of one we grow that way at a client's...

First, though, the weeping cherries.


Notice the blue tarp in the background of this cherry....

It's this blue tarp you were seeing. Two houses, two weeping cherries.

Not to say there are not very fine weeping cherries that do stay smaller. It's just that the commonly available weeping cherries are Prunus subhirtella Pendula which is really variable even between plants of the same variety, some broader, some taller. This one has stayed small and horizontal without much pruning so it may be a Yoshino cherry (a P. subhirtella hybrid) or a Fuji cherry...

#6 Janet Macunovich

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 02:32 AM

Found a couple shots of the hydrangea on its wrought iron post. It's about 10 years old now; we keep it small. It blooms. Eventually it'll have a trunk that could support it, although we'll never be able to separate it from the wrought iron so its ability to stand on its own is a moot point.



#7 DBilicki


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Posted 11 April 2012 - 12:24 PM

Thanks all, for your ideas about how to handle my too big weeping cherry. I don't have a photo yet to post but will follow up with one. Last weekend, we cut the tree down. There is still a stump larger than I would like, but we were having chain saw issues. Will try soon to take it down closer to the ground.

Regardless, for this summer at least, I am planning to put a nice, colorful pot on the stump, as someone recommended, maybe including an interesting taller grass along with a couple of "fillers" and "spillers; colors that will show it up in that mostly shady courtyard.

Last fall, in anticipation of removing the tree, I moved all my hostas, astilbes and heucheras to another location to overwinter. I have moved back the majority of them, also placing a tall white phlox toward the front of the bed against the wall, behind the dwarf alberta spruce and the bench, where it will receive the most sun. It seemed to want something taller there.

The plan is to find something to replace the tree later this season when I should be able to snag something at half price, probably a pannicle hydrangea as Janet suggests. Unless I stumble upon something else that might work in that little sun area.

This weekend I'll get some good shots of how the bed looks now and post them.

Thanks again everyone!

#8 Cricket


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Posted 13 April 2012 - 03:26 PM

Unless your heart is set on a tree:

Consider a piece of garden art for the right hand side of your space - Something light in color, not tall/angular like home and roof line. A rounded type shape no higher than midway of the window. Moved out so it sits angled midway between the edge of the window and edge of the small front brick wall. Place art on a pad facing the spruce then berm in a half circle in back of the art so your shade perennials could be planted on top of the berm to give some height. Larger hosta could go toward the front to fill in and hide the pad...

Hydrangea could go in the left corner..

If bench is moveable, place that over the tree stump or consider a cobalt blue urn shaped planter filled with bright annuals with the right light requirement the area has. Later, the planter could go in front of the small front brick wall....

Possibly with removal of the tree and the space opened up to let in more light, circulation and room for maintanence - a large woody shrub or tree won't be missed in that space...

When the human eye looks at something it stops right of center (which is the right window pane) - by bringing something in to fill the area to the right of the window the eye would rest there then scan back to center and left of center...

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