Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Weeping For a Willow

This was our neighbor's 40' tall weeping willow. It was struck by lightning 6 or 7 years ago. It's been slowly dying since. The willow came down in the middle of the night during a blizzardy January snow storm.

It was behind three pine trees at the back of our property. and added substantially to our back yard's privacy. Although it's now lying across our neighbors' back lawn, it still screens the view between us. When the willow came down, it took another tree and at least two large shrubs with it - broke the tree's trunk in half and pulled the shrubs right out of the ground with it's own decaying roots. The losses are stark.

Because the willow was on the north side of our yard, the impact on our shade garden is minimal. The garden is protected under its own dense canopy of three mature maples and is sheltered on the west by a mature arborvitae hedge. The lawn on the other hand, will get more afternoon sun. This makes DH happy, since it's not easy growing a lawn in so much shade.

This is the bottom of the trunk. See the roots? There's a web of fibrous roots on the left in this photo, you can see the woody roots sticking out the bottom. This tree 'broke' far underground. There's a crater where a tree once stood.

This was a good spot for a weeping willow. That's become increasingly obvious as it's slowly declined. Each year the ground back there has become wetter as the willow declined.

This was the view of the back of our property between two of our pines. Notice the cool, deep shade and the nearly solid wall of privacy?

Since the willow fell in January, I've been mulling over what to plant to give us back our privacy. This area used to be deep shade, now it will be part sun, and boggy. We need tall shrubs that can handle winter and spring flooding and summer dry periods. I've never had a wet area like this to plant, and am looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity. I hope to improve drainage in this problem area with the right selection of shrubs.

My short list includes red twig dogwood, willows, arrowwood viburnum, arborvitaes, and winterberries. We have a hedge of cornelian cherry dogwoods at the northwest corner of our property that puts up with wet feet. We could plant more of them. A weeping willow already thrived there for decades until being hit by lightning, and it improved drainage. Would other willow varieties fare as well? Arborvitaes would give us year-round screening. What conifers can deal with the water? The viburnums sucker, would they be invasive? Which willows are best suited to this boggy spot? Which varieties have the prettiest catkins? What combination of shrubs would provide the best bird food and sanctuary?

These are are the burning questions that boggle my mind. We have decisions to make, shrubs to purchase and plant, and outdoor living to do, so time is of the essence! Any ideas internets? sage wisdom or advice? I'm dying to hear what you think.


  1. I'm just dying for a W.Willow in my garden, so I would def. recommend it. I have admired willows since young age and if there's one tree that lived in all of my imaginary gardens, it was weeping willow for sure. I was thinking of getting one this spring, but darn, the goddamn winter just won't go away. On 2nd thought, I'd go for the arborvitaes and put the willow as a solitary plant as it would definitely grace any garden, never mind your beautiful garden. I also believe most of other willow varieties definitely improve drainage. Arborvitaes do so well in moist soils and I had used them to make a hedge (emerald green arb.) in the darkest part of my garden, under the shade of old walnut and cherry trees. And finally, I'm done pondering about shade and boggy trees as I've just been taken over by your wonderful Chipper story. Sweeeeet!

  2. Anonymous2:23 PM

    It's too bad about your Weeping Willow, they are beautiful trees. That one looked like a nice large one too. It must have been one heck of a blizzard to bring it down. Down here it's the hurricanes that knock over the big boys like that one. A few years ago I was hired to stand up 5 huge Banyon trees that blew over at the Palm Beach Zoo.(40 tons each) Shade is critical for the animals and they spared no expense in uprighting them. 50K plus. I'm always bothered when a large tree dies....happens to the best of us I guess.

  3. Anonymous4:24 PM

    These willows can be monumental and hollow. Mine were. We had two and took them down when we built my office. I guess we were lucky or they would have fallen over in a big storm we were told.

    I like your writing style as well as your photography. Nice work.

    Abraham Lincoln
    Brookville, Ohio

  4. I don't have a weeping but a curly twig willow planted in a bog area of my garden behind my pond..LoVe the privacy from my backdoor neighbor it provides.Nice to meet you a naturelover NG

  5. Viooltje, Thank you for your helpful advice! I hope spring comes soon to your corner of the world! I love the look of weeping willows, especially in a park or on a large expanse of rolling green lawn.

    Rees, I agree, they're beautiful trees. That was a huge willow too. I'm so glad no one was hurt when it came down, and that our three pines weren't damaged. We were lucky it fell the way it did. Wow, it's amazing those Banyons were able to be saved. I hate to think of what my neighbor's bill will be to have the tree removed. Less than cutting it down and removing it though I guess! Thanks for visiting my blog!

    Mr. Lincoln, What an honor to have a former president visit my blog!!! Weeping willows don't seem lke the best choice for a suburban back yard because of their size and hollowness. I was worried about that tree for some time. It was obvious it was coming down one way or the other, and when it did, I could see from the bottom of it where it broke how hollow and rotted inside it was. I'm so grateful no one was hurt by this tree when it fell.

    I love your birds! You have some amazing pictures on your blog!

    Nature girl, that's what I'm thinking of - a shrub willow of some kind. The curly ones are definitely a possibility with their interesting branches and spring catkins. Nice to meet you too!

  6. I grew up with Weeping Willow trees on our farm. They provided plenty of entertainment as well as beauty. We would swing from a wagon box to the ground on the branches. We had a wonderful time playing under them, shaded and sheltered by them.

    But, I hear tell they can be a "messy tree," dropping limbs and branches. But you would already know about that. :-) Keep us posted as to your decision, and thanks for your visit.

  7. Shady, I have fond memories of weeping willows too. One willow I remember as a child was home to a neighbor's tree house. We spent many happy hours playing up there in the boughs of that huge tree.

    They are messy. I never noticed that from our neighbor's tree though, since the mess was on their property! We were only beneficiaries of the shade and the privacy. Even when it finally fell, it politely avoided making a mess in my yard! I've never met the neighbors, but that tree was always a good neighbor in my book, and will be missed!


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