Spindly sweetgum

dr.liz(7 NJ)October 13, 2012

We have an overcrowded and neglected pocket woods in a corner of our yard. It's very small, maybe 30x30' or so, and contains black locust, chokecherry, Mazzard cherry, one American holly,one pin oak, a small spruce, and a Norway maple in one corner. There are 2 dogwoods on the edge. I would like to improve it gradually, and don't want to cut everything down, so some of the non-native stuff will have to stay for now.

I discovered a sweetgum growing there. It's about 8" in diameter, too close to the other trees. I'm not going to cut down the pin oak, which is about 8' away, but I'd be willing to remove a couple of cherries and the saplings of hackberry and Norway maple. Right now the sweetgum is like a bean pole--30' high and going straight up with no branches. Will it be able to recover and branch out at all if I thin out the trees around it?

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Unlikely in that situation......sorry, but you have just too many trees in too small a space. When you figure that both the black locust and norway maple could/should have a canopy spread of 20-25' each, the pin oak as much as 40' and a good 15-20' for each of the cherries, not to mention the real estate occupied by the other species, it adds up fast.

Certainly space, light and circulation play a factor but just as important is the root competition. These trees will all develop a root system spread at least equal to their height, typically more. All of them are fighting for moisture and nutrients and the largest with the most aggressive root system - probably the locust and maple - will hog the majority.

And then you have to consider how the tree has grown so far. Yes, if given sufficient space and light it can fill out but it will not sprout branches below where any now exist. If they are high up, all the rest of the branching will be that high or higher.

I'd recommend selecting which species you like the best and then thinning out some of the excess. This will give the remaining trees a decent chance at developing a pleasing form and healthy growth. Unless you have a lot of acreage to develop a real woodland (and 30'x30' is not quite that :-)), the best you can hope for is a cultivated woodland garden and that requires grooming, thinning and pruning to properly maintain for both appearance and health.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2012 at 4:32PM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

8' is the standard reforestation spacing; I usually go 9' - 12', except where I'm planning to plant a lot of shrubs and goundcovers. Bear in mind, though, this is planting open ground with trees. As the trees age, some selecting and thinning is necessary, but for the most part, this works for me. I prefer closed-canopy forests. In a 30 by 30 area, you should be able to get 14 trees by forestry standards; if you're wanting to garden, 5 trees would be about the maximum.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 7:45AM
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