Thursday, March 27, 2014

Managing Your Backyard Treescape

Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation, northern Queensland, Australia
When you look into a forest, like the rainforest in northern Queensland Australia, it can be hard to see the individual trees from the forest. 

In man-made woodlands around our homes and workplaces, we get used to a specific look–big tree with smaller shrubs and ground covers. But a wild forest is forever changing and there is a progression of plants: small trees growing up under still standing larger trees. Too often we forget that trees have a lifespan or can be compromised by drought, disease, or poor management.

In our neighborhood we have seen these three variables reduce the large trees dramatically over 20 years. Our once tree-lined streets, now are sunny and mostly treeless.

During a botany walk a few years ago with representatives from some of the major botanical gardens in Southern California, I learned a valuable lesson–think like a forest and plan for succession of large trees. Several of these destination gardens had learned the hard way that wind storms and unexpected disease can wipe out your man-made forest in short order and regrowing those valuable trees takes time.

I know I have two trees that are past their prime. Our flowering plum tree (Prunus cerasifera) can put on a beautiful display in spring, but it is not a long-lived species and termites are now compromising this tree. She probably has a few more years, but it is time to think about succession. What will take this tree's place? Five years ago I planted a native redbud (Cercis occidentalis), just down hill of the plum tree. Finally, it is really taking hold and starting to grow. It too will offer flowers in the spring, but it will also offer food to native birds and insects. And three years ago I discovered a native coast oak (Quercus agrifolia) coming up as a volunteer. I'm grooming these two trees to take the place of the flowering plum.

Last year the arborists discovered a hollow in the Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia) that threatens to weaken the tree over the next few years. It will be a loss to our backyard shade when it goes, but we are planning ahead. We planted a native California sycamore (Platanus racemosa) just uphill to eventually take the elm's place.

Succession is natural in wild landscapes and with a little thought, you can make it natural in your landscape as well.

green ant from Australian rainforest
Intrigued by the Australian rainforest

Take a 1 minute escape to this far away landscape at

1 comment:

treespecialists said...

There are only certain places that are intended to become a man-made woodland, and there are forest-like backyards and areas that are meant to be left as natural as it is. Proper management of treescape is done by carefully examining whether the place the trees or the lack of it poses a threat to its safety and aesthetic.

Richard Smith @ Bay Area Tree Specialists