Loggers in the Garden

When people purchase wooded property to build a home, usually the first thing they do is cut down all the trees.  Not me.  I wanted to keep the trees.  I wanted big Douglas and Grand Fir trees in my garden.  Perhaps you can understand why from this photo taken yesterday during a brief, late-December sunbreak.

They are a mixed blessing.  Gardening beneath them is much more difficult than I anticipated.  They are big, greedy resource hogs.  A far-reaching network of rootlets sucks up all available moisture and nutrients.  I always have needles tracked into the house, in my truck and in the gutters.  When the windstorms kick up, there is always a worry about them coming down.  Nevertheless, I have no regrets.  After 25 years, they are like very good friends with just a few bad habits.  I think they also allow wildlife to feel comfortable visiting the yard.

Like any plant in the garden, the big trees need tending.  For this I engaged an ISA certified arborist.  He recommended removing three which bore the greatest hazard of falling.  Some of the others would have their dead, broken and oddly growing limbs pruned.  The pruning didn't bother me, but needless to say, I had mixed feelings about removing any of my trees.

The work was carried out this past week adding a little excitement to the winter gray.  Removing a large tree from an established yard is a bit complicated.  First, the limbs are removed one by one and fed into a huge chipper.  Then the tree trunk is cut into small segments which are let down by ropes when they cannot simply be dropped.

The segments are collected in the parking area near the base of the tree.

When the tree has been reduced to a reasonable height it can be felled.  Then the trunk is cut up into firewood lengths.  This makes them easier to move to the collection site.  The wood is filled with water and even these small pieces are amazingly heavy.

This is all that's left of one very large Douglas Fir.  I placed the 12 inch combination square as a size reference.  About 8 inches (20 cm) was added to the diameter of the tree during the 25 years I have lived here.  This was a very big tree which stood out in the open.  On the south side, some of its roots had been cut to accommodate the foundation of the house.  If it had come down in a windstorm, the root ball would have heaved up and taken out the koi pond.  I might replace this tree with a native Shore Pine (Pinus contorta).  Another good candidate would be Douglas Maple (Acer glabrum) if they are available.

The second tree that was removed had a double trunk growing from a single root.

It was also cut up into segments which had to be hand-carried to the parking area collection site.  About 4:00 PM, the foreman told me they were calling it a day.  Although accustomed to this work, he admitted how tired the guys were.  My yard is on a slope.  Even regular gardening can be tiring when you must walk up and down the hill all day.  They would work another full day, and finish cleaning up on the morning of the third.

You can see the two separate ring patterns of this double-trunk tree.  I think I will replace it with a native Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) which likes some shade and is adapted to the dry and infertile conditions here.  There are some nice, disease-resistant varieties that produce 4-6 inch blossoms.  It will look nice in the understory of the remaining fir trees.

Some of the trees just needed to have broken and dead limbs removed.  The crew had strict instructions not to touch the Bald Eagles' hunting perch at the top of the left tree.

They were careful not to make a mess as much as possible.  The only garden casualties from the work was this Rhododendron 'Point Defiance' and a small Pacific Dogwood in the back yard.  The rhodie has struggled to grow in this rhodie-hostile spot for more than ten years and never reliably set blossoms.  I will replace it with native shrubs that do like to grow in this area, the Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii).

The last tree to come down was this very tall and very slim Grand Fir at the corner of the shade garden.  It had very little foliage as most of its limbs had broken off in windstorms.  It also swung wildly in the wind.  It was a prime candidate to break off in the next big storm.  I wonder if the two lobes on the leeward side of the trunk mark an attempt by the tree to stabilize itself.  Do they do that?  I currently plan to replace this tree with a native Cascara (Rhamnus purshiana).

Even though my head tells me this was the right thing to do, my heart is not yet convinced.  I know every tree intimately that grows in the yard.  I feel bad for these big living organisms that had to be taken down.  This is why it is important for me to get replacements planted as soon as possible.  The stumps will remain as epitaphs for these big, old friends.  I would enjoy hearing other suggestions for replacements.  Your thoughts and ideas posted in the comments would be most appreciated.