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Bargains that Lose Value with Time

trash trees, cheap trees, silver maple

My childhood home was planted extensively with Water Maples. They were a mess, constantly dropping broken limbs. In the fall their leaves turned a non-memorable brown before they fell. I did have more than one memorable experience related to them, though. I watched them toppled or snapped by storms. Seeing sixty-foot trees collapse within just a few feet from my window and come crashing down on other trees is a sight which stays with you for life. What I saw growing up taught me to never, ever plant a trash tree.

A trash tree is typically sold by mail-order as a quick-and-dirty solution for a landscape. The catalog depictions of trash trees boast they grow anywhere, are disease resistant, are fast growing, are very adaptable, and provide dense shade in just a few years.  It sounds great, doesn’t it? The descriptive phrases are true, and I have learned from experience to be suspicious about any tree described in those terms. There are other characteristics omitted from the catalogs—weak wooded, messy, invasive, dangerous in storms, and ugly most of the year. Thrash trees are very easy to propagate cheaply, so they can be sold at bargain prices to homeowners that think a shade tree is a shade tree is a shade tree. Trees sold in the back of a magazine about raising chickens or racing cars are usually bargains which lose value with time.

Sixty-foot shade trees for only a dollar-fifty entice homeowners to purchase Paulownia, Willow, Lombardy Poplar, Popcorn tree, Bradford Pear, Mimosa, Silver Maple, Water Maple, Black Locust, Mulberry, and Honeylocust trees. Blinded by the cheap deal, they purchase trash trees decade after decade. Trash trees are problems waiting to grow larger each year. The property owner in the photo above was lucky. The trash tree in the front yard, placed front-and-center in the middle of the lawn, has begun to self-destruct before becoming huge and unmanageable. The ten-or-so Water Maples planted at my childhood home probably cost less than ten dollars, but they did thousands of dollars in damage over the long term.

The photo below shows a newly-planted Silver Maple. After only a couple of years it has begun to provide shade to the south side of the house. What a great tree, right? Not so. In five more years, it will be dropping small limbs and leaves into the rain gutters almost every month. The fall color will be a disappointing gray-brown, and tons of leaves and heavy shade will choke out the adjacent flowering shrubs and grass. In twenty-five years the limbs that fall will no longer be small. They damage the structure of the house. Half the tree might split during a storm and onto the house. If you have a newly-planted trash tree in your yard, now is the best time to have it removed. 

trash trees, young silver maple

Every tree grows fast, and the slower species take only a few extra months to catch up with trash trees. The slower trees are taking more time to produce stronger wood. They aren’t expending all their energy toward messy, prolific seed production (lots of flowers on a tree mean lots of seeds later). They are sending their nutrients to a strong, structural scaffold for what will become the weight-bearing framework for tons of carbon material. Every tree will provide fast shade if watered and fertilized properly.

There will always be trash trees available for sale. Take the extra effort to choose better. Spend the extra money to purchase long-term, lasting beauty. Read more about trees in the new Advanced Guide to Trees eBook, based on years of experience working with the pros, evaluation thousands of landscape projects using trees.

Trash Trees