Like any business owner, I keep track of a lot of statistics. These include the usual array of business indicators such as wages, fuel costs, and changes in monthly income. Categories I follow specific to our industry include average size of pruning contracts, average size of tree and stump removal contracts, and emergency tree service as a percentage of sales. One area I don’t follow (but should) is a category I could call “Wrong tree, wrong place.” I’m sure it forms a large part of company revenue.
“Wrong tree, wrong place” would include sweetgums planted next to concrete. Sweetgums have their advantages – they grow vertically, so they can fit in a fairly small aerial space; they have beautiful color in fall; they’re hardy and they grow fast. They also rarely blow over and fall on your house. Unfortunately, that’s because they prefer to grow massive root systems – in fact sweetgums are the largest deciduous tree native to the US, growing to over 200 feet in their native range, and they have root systems to match. The roots lift up the ground from below, and we remove a lot of sweetgums because of the damage they cause to surrounding hardscape, like sidewalks and driveways.
On a smaller scale, the flowering plum is a frequent entrant in the “wrong tree, wrong place” category. They decorate the entire Valley right now with their pink blossoms, but in a few months’ time their owners will crowd the phone lines wanting to know what they can do about them. “They told us at the nursery that it was fruitless!” “I make plum brandy every time I back out of the garage!” They are beautiful trees, especially now, but often a nuisance if not planted in the right area.
What can be done? Spraying can help. Fruit inhibitors abort the blossoms and reduce fruit production. But spraying has its limitations. It reduces fruit but does not eliminate it, you need a 24 hour period of no rain in order to spray, and it costs about $100 per tree every year. As with other “wrong tree, wrong place” problems, the best solution is often to remove the wrong tree and replace it with the right one.
There are a few alternative trees that can provide the advantages of the plum without the nuisance fruit. Many crabapples produce less fruit, which is also less squishy. Hawthorns flower similarly without the nuisance fruit. They tend to be hardier than the plum and require less water. Redbuds are somewhat less showy in bloom, but are much prettier leafed out. Catalpas and crape myrtles are both beautiful flowering trees that bloom later in summer and produce no messy fruit. In the long run, removing and replacing the wrong tree is cheaper and easier than repeated spraying.
And in the case of the flowering plum, my sons have discovered a third solution: jam. The plum tastes quite good and the preserves will last, so you can enjoy the tree all year long. Unfortunately… this doesn’t work for the sweetgum.