Monday, September 26, 2011

Dissing Cookie Cutter Trees

'Tis the season for fall tree planting. The question is: Are you going to choose the right species for your landscape? Or are you going to let your local big-box store choose for you?

Because really...nothing says "boring" like a cookie-cutter tree—one of those ubiquitous species sold at big-box nursery outlets. Often found plunked down in the front yards of new housing developments, or planted in rows along driveways and streetsides, the widespread popularity of cookie-cutter trees can be attributed to one primary factor: they're cheap.

And let's face it: a cheap price is always such a temptation for impulse buyers. Especially when planting season is in the air, generating a powerful urge to make one's mark on the landscape.

But where extreme-weather events are concerned, if ever there was proof of the phrase, "you get what you pay for," cookie-cutter trees are it. Bradford pear trees are a prime example of a readily available, econo-priced plant that is almost always the first to be damaged or destroyed when extreme weather strikes.

That is not what I'm looking for in a landscape specimen that should be adding value to my property.

Okay...let me qualify all that. For many years, the downtown business district of my town was lined with Bradford pear trees. Overlooking the fact that you couldn't see the storefronts or signs through the dense lollipop crowns, the trees formed a glorious avenue of blossoms for a couple of weeks each spring. What a pleasure it was to walk or drive down the street amid a shower of snow-white petals.

But let's return to those crucial words highlight above: for many years. You notice I didn't say for many decades, or for generations. Those downtown trees are all gone now—and I can easily recall when they were planted. Cheap trees tend to have short natural lifespans, even without being damaged by extreme-weather events or other stressors. Though they sometimes live on well past an age when they should have been removed and replaced, it's usually in an increasingly ramshackle condition as property owners attempt to stave off the inevitable.

So when I'm shopping for a new addition to my landscape's tree or shrub population, I opt for long-lived  species from lists provided by my county's cooperative extension office. These plants are best suited to my local climate and soil, which means they're more tolerant of the weather extremes that they're likely to encounter in my yard.

What's more, I rather fancy the idea of a tree that will outlive me, and go on doing its part to enrich my community's greater urban forest for many generations to come.

Today, I'm happy to say that I don't have a cookie-cutter tree on my property. I did have them in the past...but that's another story for later.

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