Tag Archives: trees and shrubs

Tree from hell?

Well, that’s what I like to call them. But their common name is Tree of heaven, while your horticulturist or arborist may refer to their proper botanical name: Ailanthus altissima.

Why don’t I like this species? Because they are the quintessential weed tree. They produce seeds in large numbers that readily germinate. Those that survive and grow on are usually in undisturbed places, right along building foundations, path edges, fence lines, etc.


You blink once and the tender seedling has grown into a small plant. You turn your head away for too long, and the small plants explodes into a small tree. They do this so fast that people often give up removing them because they now seem to big to rip out.


And it’s not just the Tree of heaven. Other common weed tree species that exhibit this tendency are Mulberry trees, Elm trees, and some maples.

We had one massive Tree of heaven and a Mulberry tree at the northwest corner of our house with roots all the way into our basement. Both trees made me real nervous and I had them taken down.

All I had left now was one larger Tree of heaven in the southeast corner of our vacant lot that I wanted to see go too.

Please don’t conclude that I just don’t like trees. I do like them, but they need to be in the right place and a suitable species. Cathy and I were eager to have an apple tree in that back corner, so calling in the chain saw wasn’t a hard decision.

To make sure the Tree of heaven doesn’t grow back from the stump we spent a few extra dollars and had it ground out. I remember digging up stumps like this in the old days. But I have to admit, I like standing near the stump grinder and watching the wood chips fly much better!

Related posts:

Un-freaking believable!

This is not a proud episode, because I unintentionally exercised cruel and unusual punishment.

Last fall, one of my clients let me salvage a small hickory from their yard that otherwise would have been cut down. But the salvaging quickly turned into butchering.

I am not sure if there is a word for upside-down decapitating. If there is, that is what I did to the hickory: I cut off its vital two inch tap root in the transplanting process. Not only that, but I also hauled it for 40 miles in the back of my truck during that warm and dry fall day.


Back at my house, what was left of any leaves looked like dried tobacco and crumbled upon touch. I still planted the poor fellow, yet had no expectation that it would survive.

And that seemed to be its fate. By late May, everything around us had leafed out, except that dry stick in our park way, which once was a proud hickory. Even my neighbors noted and inquired if I would remove it.

Before going down that route, I cut off the very tip of a lower branch – and detected some green cambium behind the bark. Was it really there or was it something that I wanted to be there? In any case, it was a good excuse to delay the removal for a little longer.

By mid June, I got confirmation that the green cambium wasn’t wishful seeing on my part. This resilient son of a bitch developed buds, which kept growing and eventually exploded into leaves.

Previous Image
Next Image

info heading

info content

Un-freaking believable!

I should also disclose that I poured a five gallon pail of water at the tree base pretty much every day since late April. And thanks to my new rain barrel, I continue to do so.

Yet, this is still a very tenuous situation!

While we had days with dry and hot wind in late June, some of the leaves started to dry up again. I kept watering and it looks like I was able to stop that trend.

Have no doubt. This fellow will take a few years to recover from my butchering. I am just glad I didn’t kill it after all – yet.

Related posts:

Hickory, dickory, dock

I have been wielding the chainsaw quite a bit: On the mulberry in the front yard, on the tree of heaven next to the house, and most recently on the ash tree in the vacant lot. That left things out of whack and it is time to get back some balance – restore the yin and yang.

We didn’t have trees in our parkway by the street. That changed last year when we planted a small oak in front of the house. But I still wanted to find another tree for the parkway in front of the vacant lot.


Lo and behold, I had the opportunity to salvage a tree for our parkway – although the salvaging operation may have been more like butchering.

One of my clients had a small hickory growing next to a big oak. To preserve the oak and keep it free from competition we had planned to remove the hickory. This fall, I asked my clients if they would mind me digging up and transplanting the hickory rather than cutting it down. My clients were gracious enough let me have a go at it.


I wasn’t sure if I could get a viable root ball on that hickory because of its proximity to the oak. Fortunately, I didn’t have any big oak roots in the way.

But that was only half the struggle.

Do you know why hickories are rare to find in the nursery trade? Because they develop and rely on a taproot, which makes them notoriously difficult to transplant. And boy, did this sucker have a taproot – which I had to cut. This was the point where the transplanting turned into butchering.

On top of this, I had to drive with the tree in my truck 40 miles south. I tried to protect it from drying out as best as I could, and drove as slow as I could without causing pile up. Once back home I wished I would have opted for the quick death (i.e. cutting it down), rather than torturing that poor thing.

I tried to make up for it with some extra care while planting it in the parkway and some diligent watering.


But I have to say that I have no expectation that will come back next spring. If it does, I will refer to it as a resilient son of a bitch! And that will be a compliment.

Related Posts:

Biting the borer before it bites back

I am talking about the emerald ash borer. But before we go there, let’s start with page one, chapter one.

So far, I already have cut down two trees – the mulberry tree that was in front of the house, and the tree of heaven in our neighbors yard that was right next to our house. I am now about to add a third tree to the list: The ash tree in the vacant lot.


Before you think that I am an arbophobe (if there is such a thing), let me make my case.

There has been an emerald ash borer infestation in Illinois and in our community. It is an almost certain death sentence for our ash tree that hosts this little, shiny, bright green beetle.

Our friend Anne participated in a tree evaluation in Douglas Park about two years ago. The verdict was that most ash trees in the park were infected. The following winter, tree crews moved in, taking down ash trees – a lot of them.

The crews were back last fall and early winter, taking down every single remaining ash tree in the park. We lost a lot of trees! While few still looked normal, most showed at least the first signs of the ash borer infection, while others had been standing dead for a year already.

We are only half a block west of Douglas Park, and we have that ash tree in the yard. The last thing I want to add to the look of our yard was a dead tree among the piles of building materials I am hoarding.

And the borer has made our tree his home. Woodpeckers like to go after the emerald ash borer larvae. Extensive woodpecker damage on an ash tree is a typical sign of an ash borer infestation. And that woodpecker damage was hard to miss.


Rather than being sorry later in the year, I decided to be proactive now and bust out the saws.

ash-tree-02 ash-tree-03

With the ash tree gone, its neighbor – the smaller elm tree – may appreciate the extra room to grow and prosper. That’s the silver lining of this story that I’m holding on to.

Related posts:

Mulberry tree not to be

Rooting for removal


Rooting for removal

Back in April of ’09 I wrote about our decision to remove the existing mulberry tree in our front yard. It wasn’t a difficult decision, but a difficult task to complete.

We now have further reassurance that it was a good choice. While we were gutting the basement we came across and increasing number of roots finding their way up through the floor. They had a particularly strong presence in “the secret room” under the front stoop and stairs, which was very close to the mulberry tree.

While removing and excavating the existing basement floor we discovered a whole new network of tree roots, large and small, growing in from underneath the footing wall and popping out of the clay.

Previous Image
Next Image

info heading

info content

Mulberry tree roots don’t have the best reputation; they can be pretty aggressive. I am really glad that we took the tree down last April.

That said, not all roots may originate from the Mulberry tree! There is also a big Tree-of-Heaven (another junk tree species) very close to the northwest corner of our house.

This tree is also a little too close to the building and foundations for my comfort. The problem is that this tree is not on our property. I should plan to talk to our neighbor to find out how they feel about the tree, and if they would be open to replace it with another species a little further away from the building.