Problem Poplars

For today’s topic we’ll be discussing one of the most maligned tree families in the urban environment, a consistent nuisance to homeowners and arbor care professionals alike:

The poplar family (consisting of cottonwoods, aspens, Lombardy poplars, etc.) grows in tall, vertical columns, with steep and often weak branch unions and soft, brittle wood. Rows of poplars can provide effective windscreens for spacious properties, but for urban landscapes these trees are typically a poor choice for any purpose. They grow extremely quickly (Lombardy poplar can achieve six feet of growth in a single year) and interfere with overhead utilities, while shallow root systems disrupt pavement, landscapes, and underground utilities. They are also prone to storm breakage and are susceptible to infections and sticky aphid infestations.

In the wild, poplars often spring up in the wake of fires, clear-cutting, and other forest damage, providing temporary protection for evergreen seedlings until the evergreens grow large enough to dominate the forest. Because of this, poplar species have naturally short lifespans compared to firs, pines, spruces and the like. The harsh conditions in an urban landscape reduces their staying power even further, which is why we usually find them in very poor condition, like these beauties:

Dead poplars need removal

When poplars die, they do not die gracefully. Their lightweight, weak and brittle wood shatters easily under stress, making them an extreme hazard to surrounding structures. The above image is from a project our Portland crew did back in June, where a row of four almost-entirely dead trees posed an imminent danger to nearby houses — as well as to our climbers and ground workers tasked with taking them down. A short time later, we removed another dying row under similar conditions. Indeed, an observant eye will notice these trees are failing throughout the area as a generation of plantings reaches the end of its lifespan.

Thankfully, planting these trees in residential areas has fallen out of practice as general knowledge has grown. But many of these nuisance trees still exist, posing severe breakage hazards and interfering with power lines. If you do own a poplar, cottonwood, or aspen tree that is in decline or is damaging surrounding structures, we strongly recommend that you have the tree removed sooner rather than later. The longer the tree stands and dies, the more of a hazard it becomes, and the more costly it will be to take it down.

Don’t wait until you no longer have a choice. Poplar removals are a risky and delicate operation — the project shown above took two long days for a two-climber team to carefully lower the branches and wood, and much sweat was spilt during the tougher and more dangerous phases of the removal. Many of the hazards could have been mitigated simply by taking action sooner, addressing these problem trees before they became a threat to people and property.

If your poplars (or any other trees) have become problematic, please don’t hesitate to give us a call to schedule a free consultation and estimate. Our experienced professionals will deal with your hazard trees quickly and safely, leaving you free to start over with a new and beautiful tree that is more appropriate for your landscape.

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