Sample text for The tree book : a pratical guide to selecting and maintaining the best trees for your yard and garden / Jeff Meyer.

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Other than my wife, Anne, I can say with all honesty that trees have been the love of my life. Playing in them, planting them, and ultimately making them my life's work -- trees are my personal passion.

Most trees live longer than people do, and planting one is an act of faith, a gift of hope for the future, and a powerful gesture. I look at a tree and see history -- my personal history, as well as my connection to all that's gone on before me and what will happen long after I'm gone. Watching a tree grow is like watching time pass -- barely perceptible, yet happening all the same. Trees change with gentle seasonality, reminding us of the invisible hand of nature. And losing a tree makes us realize our own vulnerability, marking a permanent shift in time and place.

When I chose to center my career on trees, it was simply because I hated to see trees cut down and run through a chipper, simply for the crime of being in the way of development. Also I grew up in a family deeply involved with trees, and the cavalier destruction of trees made no sense to me. "Why can't they figure out a way to move the tree instead of cutting it down?" I thought many times. That's when I discovered the tree spade -- a huge truck with a hydraulic digging mechanism that can move a large tree to another location -- and bought one. I started The Big Tree Company in 1983, and we were busier than I had ever dreamed possible, saving big trees from the woodchipper by digging them up with a tree spade and transplanting them in a new location. And who knew there would be such a thriving market for big trees? Several years ago I sold The Big Tree Company so that I could concentrate on growing historic trees.

There is a gentle giant of a honey locust that "heard" Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address; a towering tulip poplar that George Washington planted; the last living apple tree planted by John Chapman aka Johnny Appleseed; a southern magnolia planted at the White House by Andrew Jackson in 1829; and a Kentucky coffee tree that stood for years like a marker over the amputated arm of Stonewall Jackson. In a poignant way, these trees connect us to those who forged the path that made this country what it is. When you stand in the shadow of one of these silent and knowing trees, our nation's collective history runs right through you. It was this connection that I wanted to extend to anyone, anywhere, who loves trees and history as much as I do.

In the mid-1980s, I founded the Historic Tree Nursery in Jacksonville, Florida, with American Forests, the oldest nonprofit conservation group in the country. We collect seeds or take cuttings from historic trees at national parks, presidential homes, battlefields, and landmarks. The historic tree saplings are sold in our catalog and on the Internet (; the proceeds allow American Forests to plant more trees to restore damaged ecosystems.

Growing the direct offspring of trees that witnessed famous people and historic events has put me in touch with the natural world in such a unique way, and I have had the privilege of seeing so many amazing trees that my job doesn't even seem like work. Many of these historic trees appeared in a 1999 public television documentary called Silent Witnesses: America's Historic Trees, narrated by actor James Whitmore. That broadcast led to my own weekly show for public television, Tree Stories, and now I host Tree Stories: Leaving a Legacy, on which celebrities talk about their connection to trees.

Every individual tree we plant is an expression of the relationship between man and planet, time and place. Like others, I plant trees to mark important personal moments or events in my own and my family's life. I also plant trees as part of a personal and professional goal to reforest on a massive scale. I have kept track of the number of trees I have planted in my life, and I am up to 623,000, including seventy-three different species. Of course, a few of these trees stand out in my memory more than others.

In 1988 American Forests announced a project known as Global ReLeaf, which included an initiative to plant 20 million trees for the new millennium. That was a nearly outlandish goal -- who could even mentally picture 20 million, let alone make it happen! Global ReLeaf gained tremendous momentum, involving countless volunteers, foresters, everyday citizens, children, and corporations. Trees were planted in more than five hundred ecosystem restoration projects across the United States as well as in Czechoslovakia, Russia, Africa, Indonesia, and South America. By the spring of 2003, the count stood at 19,999,999.

It was a pretty nasty day when I met Val Kilmer at his ranch in New Mexico. We were bundled up in jackets and gloves, but Val had on his flip-flops -- my kind of guy! We drove out to Los Alamos, an area ravaged by a fierce wildfire in 2000, and an area that American Forests was trying aggressively to reforest. There we planted Tree Number Twenty Million -- a sawtooth oak -- and shook hands, beaming from ear to ear. A distant cousin of poet Joyce Kilmer, Val appropriately recited his poem "Trees." Everyone present was humbled by helping bring the area back to life.

Global ReLeaf launched another big chapter in my life in 1991. I was asked to join the delegates to Moscow for the first Peace Victory Parade. The Soviets had always celebrated May Day with a huge marching display of powerful weapons and thousands of troops. On May Day 1991, however, a post-Cold War Russia wanted to show solidarity with the world's peace-loving nations.

American Forests, of course, wanted to plant a tree -- an international symbol of peace. We chose a sycamore that I had grown from seeds collected from the tree that had shaded George Washington's headquarters at White Plains, New York, during the American Revolution. That was the easy part -- getting a plane ticket for the tree was not, and the regulations were unbelievable! We had to clear all the soil from the roots, carefully wrap them in sterile sphagnum moss, and burlap the root-ball -- and still keep the tree alive. The tree had to be inspected, certified, reinspected, and recertified about a dozen times. All these expenses meant that tree flew one way for twice as much as my round-trip ticket.

When the plane landed in Moscow, a contingency of armed guards was waiting on the tarmac -- not for us, but for the tree! They stood guard over the sycamore until we planted it on the lawn of the government building known as the Russian White House, and then assigned an armored tank patrol to twenty-four-hour guard duty. But the glasnost-paved road to democracy was bumpy; ironically, about two years later there was rioting in Moscow and our tree was flattened by a tank protecting Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

On the immediate horizon, we are working on planting Liberty Forests -- environmental restoration projects that will match one tree for every current active duty member of the United States armed forces -- 1.384 million new trees. When that goal is met, we will count back, planting a tree for every person who has worn a uniform for our nation; a total of more than 40 million trees to eventually stand in honor of America's veterans.

Historic trees are usually America's native species -- many were here when settlers arrived. They are survivors of natural disasters, in most cases improving their genetic toughness with each new generation, going the way of the dinosaur in others. I believe species diversification is critical in order for trees to survive development, clear-cutting, pollution, global warming, and their most threatening predator -- man.

At the same time, man can work some magic when it comes to breeding tree species that can tolerate today's harsh conditions. Cultivars and hybrid trees fill a necessary and important need -- they can flourish despite pollution, root compaction, and urban stress. They are bred by dedicated horticulturists and arborists to improve on the native species, making them more resistant to pests and disease, hardier in a compromised ecology, or simply more beautiful or fragrant. Developed cultivars and hybrids are often better to plant for a specific purpose or condition than the native original, as certain natural weaknesses in the native have been minimized or eliminated in the cultivar. It is rare for a modern home landscape to not have native trees and cultivars growing side by side. When it comes to native versus cultivar, I guess you could call me a "Republocrat" -- some of both makes the balance interesting.

I wrote this book to bring attention to my favorite trees in the American landscape -- their beauty, their utility, and their history. I also wrote this book to take the mystery out of the process of choosing and planting these trees, so you'd have the tools to make confident choices about which trees to plant in your yard from among more than sixty of my favorites, as well as where and how to plant them and how to care for them over time. Every tree you plant will bring added enjoyment and value to your home. It is my hope that you'll become as big a tree booster as I am, starting right in your own yard.

Copyright © 2004 by Jeff Meyer

Poplar (Populus sp.)

Top Reasons to Plant

• Tolerance of hot summers and cold winters

• Fast growth

• Fluttering leaves

George Washington loved the outdoors and spent his boyhood afternoons eagerly learning agricultural and farming techniques from his half-brother, Lawrence, owner of an 8,000-acre estate in the Virginia countryside. After Lawrence's death, Washington assumed ownership of the expansive property, Mount Vernon, and added 15,000 acres when he married Martha Dandridge Custis. He relished his role as landscape architect, planting long rows of trees along winding paths. These plantings provided the backdrop for countless hours of entertaining and philosophizing with Mount Vernon's many guests.

Washington especially admired the tulip poplar and in 1785 planted several that still thrive at Mount Vernon today. These national treasures partly inspired my own Famous and Historic Trees project -- I realized how lovely it would be to plant descendants of Washington's tulip poplars! We gathered the seeds and planted them several times over a few years, but nothing grew. Dr. Frank Santamour, the late tree geneticist of the National Arboretum, realized that because the trees had grown so tall -- between 80 and 100 feet high -- bees were unable to reach high enough to pollinate them. When we tried pollinating the seeds by hand, we were finally rewarded with direct descendants of Washington's own tulip poplars.

The poplar family has many members. Also called aspen and cottonwood, the poplar is generally a fast-growing tree -- you can have an effective screen in less than five years. But because they are quite sensitive to air pollution, artificial lighting, compacted soil, salt, drought, and heat, they're best in far suburbs and rural areas, where they can grace open fields or riverbanks.

Because poplars grow so rapidly, they are useful as visual screens and for wind protection or shade. These lanky trees are best grown in clumps or groups, space permitting. Because Lombardy poplars grow quickly and have a narrow, erect habit, they are useful planted in rows as privacy screens, to line borders, and for wind protection. They are often used to line rural drives.

Eastern Poplar (Populus deltoides)

The eastern poplar can add up to four or five feet to its height each year. It reaches between 40 and 70 feet at maturity, about sixty to seventy-five years old. As the tree grows, its large canopy spreads nearly as wide as the tree is tall. But once it reaches maturity, the poplar can decline rapidly, its brittle branches often falling victim to weather or disease. This tree grows well from zones 2 to 9. In the Great Plains, the eastern poplar, also known as cottonwood, is highly valued as one of the few large trees that can thrive in such a harsh, dry climate.

Eastern poplar leaves emerge in early May. Between three and six inches long and three and four inches wide, they have a triangular shape and coarsely toothed edges. Light green in the spring, they darken as they mature. Like the leaves of all poplars, eastern poplar leaves have distinctive flattened stems, causing them to twist in the breeze and display their glossy lighter green undersides. Early in the fall, usually September, poplar foliage turns bright yellow before dropping.

Poplars bear male and female flowers on separate trees. The three-inch-long drooping red male catkins emerge in mid to late April before the leaves appear. As spring progresses, catkins on female poplars develop drooping clusters of small, yellow-green flower capsules. These capsules dry and split, releasing silvery white tufted seeds that blow in the wind, accounting for the tree's nickname "cottonwood." These seeds are a favorite snack for songbirds and animals such as chipmunks and squirrels, waterfowl, and deer.

Eastern Poplar Choices

Male poplars are not messy in the landscape because they don't produce the characteristic tufted seeds. They're called "cottonless cottonwoods" for this reason. Two such cultivars are Siouxland and Noreaster, with dark green leaves and nice structure.

Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

Named for the way its leaves tremble in even the slightest breeze, the quaking aspen is the most widely distributed tree in North America. Also known as the aspen poplar, trembling aspen, golden aspen, and mountain aspen, this poplar has delicate foliage whose flattened stems offer little or no resistance to the wind. The famous quaking leaves have slightly pointed tips with small rounded teeth along the edges. Averaging one to three inches in diameter, they display a light, glossy green that turns a brighter green on top and paler below as they approach maturity. They turn a gorgeous gold before dropping in September or October.

Quaking aspens grow in a tall, columnar form to 35 to 50 feet at maturity -- fifty or sixty years. They add three or four feet of growth in the first few years. The spread of their narrow canopy is usually 20 to 30 feet, forming an attractive, open, pyramidal profile. They are cool-weather trees, unhappy in the heat, and their zone range is 1 through 6.

Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra italica)

Sometimes called the Italian poplar, the Lombardy poplar offers rapid growth, increasing four or five feet per year, and an attractive narrow columnar habit appropriate for screens and windbreaks. It will reach a height of 70 to 90 feet with a spread of only 10 to 15 feet. It grows from zones 3 to 9.

Lombardy poplar leaves emerge in early May. Up to three inches long, they have a triangular shape and toothed edges. In spring they display a light green that turns gray-green as the weeks pass. Like the leaves of all poplars, Lombardy poplar leaves have distinctive flattened stems that allow twisting in the breeze, showing off their pale undersides. Early in the fall, usually September, Lombardy poplar foliage turns bright yellow before dropping.

Unfortunately, canker disease can infect this tree by the time it is ten to fifteen years old, so trees larger than 30 feet tall and 5 feet wide are rare. There is little to be done to treat this disease if it happens.

Requirements of Your Poplar

Poplars want full sun and have low tolerance for shade. They accept a wide range of soil types including coarse, granular soil, but they prefer fine sandy loam or silt. And while they do best in moist soil, they don't tolerate flooding. If poplars have moisture a good part of the year, they can handle the dry periods typical of the Midwest and Great Plains. Their ideal soil is neutral.

Planting Your Poplar

The more care you take when you put your tree in the ground, the better it will do during its long life. Follow the complete planting directions provided in chapter 3.

Special notes: If you want to avoid pods of the fluffy cottonlike material that accompanies poplar seeds, choose a male tree. All poplars, male and female, can drop leaves, flowers, and twigs around your landscape, so don't plant them in or near garden beds or other trees and shrubs. Also, plant them 60 to 70 feet from buildings, septic tanks, and sidewalks so that their aggressive root systems will do no harm. Poplars can be planted any time in the growing season.

Caring for Your Poplar

Follow the instructions on seasonal care for young and mature trees -- watering, mulching, fertilizing, staking, and pruning -- described in chapter 3.

A special note: Train young poplars to develop a single trunk, or central leader, by pruning lower, secondary large stems. While it's not necessary to prune poplars routinely, you should remove dead and broken branches from time to time, especially as the tree ages. You'll also need to prune off the pesky root suckers that will grow into full trees if left unchecked. Prune when the tree is dormant, no later than February, because pruning wounds will bleed if sap is rising.

Special Situations for the Poplar

Poplar is a good tree and easy to grow, but be familiar with the signs of some common poplar problems.

Copyright © 2004 by Jeff Meyer

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Ornamental trees.
Ornamental trees -- Identification.