I have a 35-year old Arizona ash (Fraxinus velutina) that shades much of the front yard and a quarter of the house. It’s a venerable tree that was planted when the house was built, as were dozens of its counterparts around the neighborhood. The shade alone probably saves us a few hundred dollars a year in electricity not used on air-conditioning.
But some of its properties that made it a favored tree for the developers when they planted it – namely that it is fast-growing – make it a nuisance as a home-owner. Since ours covers part of the roof, if often needs trimming shortly after it leafs out in Spring because the branches, when wet, touch the roof. If I wait too long to do this, the chance of a windstorm whisking in and causing the tree to abrade the roof increase. That’s what happened last year, and it cost us $450 to repair spots in the roof. Ouch.
This weekend I did my trimming and produced a pretty impressive pile of ash leaves and branches. I spent a couple hours on the ground afterward separating large branches from smaller ones. I did this because the mulching lawnmower I have makes pretty quick work of the smaller branches and leaves. Once I’m finished with the pile of branches, I should have 5-6 wheelbarrows full of fresh mulch. Some of this I’ll put directly in the compost heap because the energy in the green leaves and twigs will really kick the compost heap into high gear. The rest I’ll spread in different places around the yard that need nutrients.
Shortly after the windstorm last year I had tree experts come out and give an estimate on doing a professional pruning. The consensus was that Arizona ash trees tend to live only 35 years. And yes, ours is at that age. Indeed, many people around the neighborhood have cut theirs down. This is a pretty daunting idea to me – the yard without that tree. On one hand, I’d love more area to plant sun-loving natives and possibly a good native tree or two. I’m thinking a pecan or a Texas ash. But on the other hand, the A/C bill increases and the cost of removing such a large tree (possibly as high as $2,000) are frightening.
But, I plan to start working on the area beneath the tree so that it isn’t a sudden wasteland should the tree die. Some decorative landscaping and shade-loving natives will do until the tree leaves, and planting a sapling tree or two will give us something to look forward to tree-wise after the giant is gone. According to a segment on David Attenborough’s The Private Life of Plants, tree saplings are designed to live in shaded canopy for many years, waiting for an older tree to fall before the younger one requires direct sun to manufacture its food. While this wasn’t something I knew specifically, it makes perfect sense, and gives me hope we might have a decent-sized replacement waiting in the wings.