Designing Landscapes: Taking down our maple tree
Here’s a story about our maple tree that got too big, started to rot and had to be chopped down. That part is sad but there are things to look forward to now that it’s gone.
First, a picture of how it looked in its glory years. This is about the only picture we have of the entire tree. It was too big to take a picture of, frankly. Taking a picture of our house and our maple tree at the same time is like taking a picture of your family in front of the Empire State building – you’re only going to get a portion of the building or your family will end up looking like ants. Our maple was at least 100 feet tall. Not uncommon for a big leaf maple. It was definitely a dominating presence in our front yard. What a beautiful shape, don’t you think?
However, there’s a price to pay for that fast growth. Trees that grow fast tend to have weak wood. Unlike, for example, a Japanese maple that takes its time growing, this big leaf maple would break branches in every wind storm. Mostly small ones but sometimes big ones too. It was downright scary to be under it when a sudden gust of wind picked up.
If you look with a trained eye, you can see there’s trouble written in the branches for those living under this monstrous beauty.
With all the trees being chopped down in our neighborhood recently, from housing developments to cutting under power lines, we didn’t want to add another one to the list. Being such a fine old specimen made it especially hard.
Dropped branches weighing more than a hundred pounds changed our minds.
We hired an ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) certified arborist to do the job because it was close to the house and a tricky job getting those long slender top branches down safely (some of them rotted on the inside).
We wanted the tree taken down and the stump removed because we wanted to use the area for new plants and an old stump just isn’t good symbolically for the front yard in my opinion. While it’s true many trees were chopped down to clear the land and to build the house in the first place, I still don’t want to have a symbol or that human bent for destruction sitting in the front yard rotting for a couple decades.
Here’s what’s left of the poor tree after being taken down.
Well, we can make use of the really large pile of wood chips for one. This is really a valuable thing! On our 3/4 acre lot, there are a lot of paths that can use chips and planting beds that can use weed suppressing mulch (more on the paths in another story).
I estimate this pile is over 20 yards of wood chips. If you were to buy that it would cost around $800. Now you can get wood chips free if there are arborists busy in your area but that is not an on-demand service. It’s only if they have some at the time and are in the area. Also, they often have other people on their list too. You usually have to wait for it, sometimes for weeks and months. So I will count that $800 against what I paid for the stump removal.
Then there are the rounds of wood that I’m going to use for firewood. I estimate we got 2 1/2 cords of firewood and I’ll value it at $200 per cord (that I have to split myself). That’s $500 more off of the felling price of the tree.
We wanted to make furniture out of the wood but we found there was so much rot in the tree that much of the wood was spoiled. We can still cut a few rounds out of the bigger stuff to make a cafe table. Let’s call that worth $50. It could be worth more to someone who really wants to wood work.
This tree was close to the house and always clogged the gutters which would have to be cleaned at least once a year (often twice) and made a shady spot for moss to grow on the roof. Roof and gutter cleaning I’d price at $200 a year.
Finally, there’s the benefit of – sunshine! What price can you put on sunshine? You may think it’s priceless and you’d be right. However, if you had solar panels, that might place a monetary figure on the price of sunshine. In our case, we want to plant an orchard. Let’s just conservatively say a bushel of organic apples can now be grown every year worth $75.
$1900 tree + $700 stump +$247 tax = $2,847 fell tree and grind stump
-$50 wood for table
$1,497 after one-time benefits
-$275 per year for yearly benefits
= in less than six years I will be paid back monetarily.
But I’ve gotten a bit off track. This wasn’t supposed to be a story about how taking down trees can pay for itself. It’s a sad story how the loss of a beautiful tree affects the caretakers of the land. And I have to say, with ecological devastation all around, it’s heart wrenching to have to take another large tree down. It was after all older than I am, that should count for something. And it was definitely much grander than I am.
Just think of all those years for a tree to grow to such a towering height; all those summers it had provided shade, the fall color, the nesting places for birds, the seeds it produced. And then, a few men with chain saws can take it down in one day. That is surely a tragedy that it takes so long to grow something so beautiful and so little time to destroy it.
However, at the end of the day we are looking forward to the sunshine and all the plants we can now grow in the front yard. It’s liberating in a way, to not be under the tree anymore. And we promise to compensate for the loss of the tree by planting many more plants and a great diversity of plants in its place. In some respects, the spirit of the tree lives on.
James Young is the owner of Blue Wheelbarrow Landscaping in Edmonds.