Friday, April 15, 2011

A Tale of Two Trees

I live on the edge of the high plains of Colorado.  We are on the border of a harsh area. It is windy. It is dry. It can be very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter.  The soil is either sandy or clay, neither of which have much naturally occurring organic matter that helps sustain plant life.  Only the toughest plants survive. Trees are often only found in areas along streams or in pockets among folds in the undulating prairie where moisture might collect.  As you drive through the prairie you will also see clumps of trees off in the distance that mark a homestead established many years ago, perhaps before the dust bowl era. I can only imagine the stories the trees could tell!
 The lovely(?) deer are resting among some of the older trees at our new house. These are the types of trees you might see dotting the countryside. However, a bit further east of this house you wouldn't see the naturally occurring pines - all you'd have is prairie grasses and a few scrub oaks and possibly current bushes.

Trees are a precious commodity here, cared for and coddled, and certainly never taken for granted. Our new home has two red maple trees that may have been planted as recently as six years ago. If that assumption is correct, the trees would have been very expensive, based on their size.

Someone at some point loved those trees, but they are now the victims of neglect. I'm writing this entry to show you my trees (OK, for most of you this probably sounds very silly, but coming from the plains where the only trees around are those planted by someone...we value our 'tall' plants!)  but more importantly, to seek suggestions and advice from all of my farm friends and farm girls that may know something about trees!

Here are the trees. They anchor our garden area which is enclosed by a picket fence.

The tree on the right is not so much a victim of neglect, but a victim of it's species. The tree has a co-dominant trunk. Maples often do this.

At some point, maybe in last April's heavy snow storm, the weight or the wind, partially split the tree at the junction of the two trunks.

This is a very weak point in trees like Maples.  It looks like the tree's resources have begun to repair the damage at the base of the wound. However, the top of the split still has raw, open wood. I doubt that it will be able to heal, especially as the tree leafs out and the wind has more to grab.  So I am having an internal debate, well, and yes, a debate with my hubby about what we should do.... and when.

1. We can ignore the split and hope that it continues to mend (and hope that it doesn't split down to the base some day during a storm.)
2. We can cut off one of the co-dominant trunks. Probably the one on the right.
3. We can drill a hole and put a bolt through both trunks to try to stabilize them.
4. Your thoughts??

The tree on the left has a different set of issues.

Generally I've been told to cut suckers off. No problem. But, my information on pruning cautions against pruning off branches that are larger than two inches diameter as it might leave the tree with less resources

Some of the suckers are that size, or larger. Might it cause the same problem? So my options with this tree include:

1. Cut all of the suckers off.
2. Cut half of the suckers off this year and half next year.
3. Do nothing and enjoy my Maple bush!

FarmGirls and Farm Friends... I'd love to hear your ideas and suggestions. I also plan to visit other's sites. Click on the links below to do the same!


  1. I don't know how to care for trees, but I know all about their being worth their weight in gold and a treasure to covet and gaurd! Other's will have knowledgable advice for you I'm sure. I think the bolting option sounds totally doable! Otherwise your going to loose the whole thing to wind. Lets face it, that's a given where we live! And if you take off half it will be lopsided and thus weakened against the wind that way too! THe other one...I think I'd prune half and half if they are that important for the trees sustinance. And I know my spelling stinks in this commment. I just got up a little while ago. Brain power isn't warmed up quite yet.

  2. Dreamer, I too love trees and believe they should be given extra care here. But the 2 trees in question are Red Maples (Acer Rubrum), correct? I believe the leaves of the Red Maple are very toxic to horses when they fall from the tree. With our crazy Colorad winds blowing this way and that, the leaves would probabl cross paths with Pippin and Doc sometime. I'm sad to say, but I'd consider replacing them if they are indeed the species toxic to equines. Please do correct me if I'm wrong. You know a lot more about these things than I do. I've just heard a lot about the red maple leaves being a concern to horse owners. I would worry about Pippin the most since he's an "I'll eat anything" kinda guy.

  3. P.S...I love that you have deer hanging out at your new home. They are a pretty sight, and so calming to watch. I imagine they will challenge your vegetable garden. Funny story about that...a friend of mine called the zoo to see if he could pick up some Mountain Lion dung to place around his garden. He heard the smell would keep the deer away. The zoo advised against that because their lion poop might contain excrement from a female lion in heat. In that case, they said the deer would stay away, but he might find some lonely male mountian lions in his garden. He opted to erect a fence around his garden. :-)

  4. Dreaming-
    Please contact me regarding the book giveaway.
    Everyday Ruralty

  5. I don't know anything about trees. We lost our cottonwood last year to what I don't know, but since the last snow came May 23rd, it may have been frost. I like to stick with the native plants of which we have so many (junipers). I enjoyed finding out where you live and that you are in yet another tough, dry, hot/cold area, different from here, but still with a lot in common.--Inger

  6. Only thing I'd recommend it waiting till fall to prune. Winter keeps insects from invading the fresh cuts.

  7. Just a note about red maples...I have heard that they are toxic to horses. I would probably prune half and half on the suckers and don't know about the other tree. Just my thoughts.

  8. Once Upon and C and C, you are both correct about the red maples being toxic to horses. If we lose the trees, I won't cry (too much) for that reason! Luckily they are quite a ways from the pasture area. And, yes, Pippin would probably try to sample the leaves... so pick up will be prompt and often in the fall!

    Sarah & C and C; I am leaning towards your suggestions of cutting half of the suckers now. Susan, I hadn't even thought about fall or winter pruning - good thinking!

  9. it sounds like you have some excellent answers as i do not have anything to offer but yes, the red maples are toxic. my grandfather in vermont had sugar maples on his farm for the syrup and they are safe for horses. the deer pic is very serene. i love my deer as they sit all the time chewing their cud after a delicious meal of corn. i am giving away a white flower farm gift certificate if you are interested...i have followed you for a while now and would love for you to stop by sometime. happy spring!

  10. You have trees! I'm so jealous!
    The first maple, I'd go with option 2. I worked a summer in a nursery, and the head guy would call that Y "tight as a schoolmarn's crotch". Not a good thing. The second maple I would enjoy as a maple bush, like chokecherries form sometimes.

  11. I know in larger trees sometimes they would pour concrete to cement the two parts together. Don't know how it would work on a smaller tree like that.

  12. I've been trying to open your Sunday post, which I can see as a thumbnail on my sidebar. But when I try to open it, I get a "page not found" message. Anybody else having a problem?

  13. For the first situation I'd remove one of the trunks. It will give the other one more strength and not pull the entire tree apart, like you said.
    For the other situation, I'd be cutting the suckers. Can;t stand 'em. I get them from one of my apple trees and an apricot tree...the apricot is worse and all the suckers come out thick like an actual tree. Cut, snip, of they go.
    I've never had any issues with our fruit trees flowering, leafing out or producing fruit and I cut the suckers at the base every year.

    Good luck,



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