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Should I cut down an old tree or try to keep gardening as the shade creeps in more and more each yea

 
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I have 3 huge trees on my small property. Two are Corkscrew Willows (huge but only 17 years old) and the 3rd is a very old and a type of Willow but not sure exactly. The very old tree has major limbs that die each year and so it's growing a lot of lower branches to make up for that....and that is causing even more shade this year.

Anyway, each year I lose more and more sun. Half of my growing area is right now in deep shade. I don't like cutting down trees but I think if I don't, my edible growing area will be quite limited. The Corkscrews keep growing and growing and growing. The 3rd old tree is right in the middle of my yard with the Corkscrews on adjacent sides.

I'm looking for advice. Does anyone have advice on this situation. It's currently causing me a lot of distres, lol. Is cutting down trees a horrible thing to do to Nature and should I figure out how to work around them?

Any advice is much appreciated. Especially anyone who's had this situation and either cut down a tree or has worked with the shade. I've also thought that maybe they could all three be trimmed?

I also thought of having an Arborist come out and evaluate. Does anyone know of a Permaculture Arborist in Southern Oregon?

Thank you so much!!!

Sam
 
gardener
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Location: Durham, NC
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I love trees.  That said I have taken down a couple big ones in my time.  Both cases were trees that were dead or dying and dropping limbs.  I watched as one limb, which seemed smallish to me, fell directly onto my shed, crumpled the roof, and split the shed open.  The reverberations could be felt through the ground. what if it had been a medium limb? shudder.

You're not exactly in that situation but your ability to produce food is being threatened.  I consider that a valid reason to remove a tree, as long as you've thought through the ramifications.

Weeds are going to start sprouting like ... weeds once that sweet sunlight is there.  You need to have an immediate mulching/cover plan or you are going to be waist deep in weeds.

Is the tree a windbreak?  Is it holding a hill together, or preventing erosion?  If so, when you get rid of it you may have wind damage, standing water, or rivulets you weren't expecting.

Can you safely take down the tree?

Do you have a plan for the wood?  I hope this is an easy yes.  Lumber, hugel, firewood, selling it, what have you.  Processing a tree is tough unless you have big equipment.

If you are ok with all that and the only thing stopping you is guilt? For a tree that is blocking sunlight to your garden?  All I can say is I cut down a tree a couple months ago for just that reason.
 
pollinator
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I like trees. A lot. But I recognize that they are living things with a finite lifespan. As well, people thoughtlessly plant them (or allow them to grow) in places where they will inevitably interfere with other endeavours or access points. So, if they need to come down, they come down.

I make up for it by moving a dozen young trees for every one I take out. Many are volunteers that I rescue from utility line corridors, where they will eventually be sprayed or mulched. They go to locations where they will thrive and not interfere with anything. To my mind that balances the accounts.
 
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Might we look at the problem as a solution? Willow's are great for coppacing and pollarding. Which means a number of uses not limited to wood chips, fencing, basket/weaving, feeding your rocket mass stove/wood stove, maybe propogating other plants with willow mixed in water. This could preserve the tree and give you more sun exposure in the garden.
 
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Rob brings up a good point about safely removing the trees.  It is very expensive to hire someone to take them down.

I like Teresa's suggestion about coppicing and pollarding as that sounds like a good solution.
 
pollinator
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All about copicing.

All about pollarding.
 
gardener
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Location: N. California
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Thank you Teresa Risvold and Joylynn Hardesty.  I had no idea what coppacing and pollarding where, and now I do, so thanks.  I think this is a great solution, not only does it appease your guilt over cutting down a tree, gives you much needed sun light, but I seem to think willow is one of those trees that is almost impossible to get rid of any way.  Several years ago I removed a crape myrtle.  I dug it up roots and all Hahahaha.  For many years I did my best to kill the shoots that sprout up everywhere.  Back then I didn't know any better and even used round-up, and even that didn't do the trick.  Now I just cut it as close to the ground as I can and call it good.  I'm not 100% sure, but it seems to me willows will act the same.  
I know how you feel. I hate to cut down trees.  My son has no such problem, and we have heated discussions on it occasionally.  He cut the old Walnut tree behind my garden when I was at work about 3 or 4 years ago.  I was so mad!  He didn't understand why I was mad, we have more walnut tree's, and that one was mostly dead anyway.  Now instead of a sickly English walnut behind my garden I have a robust black walnut creating a lot of shad in my garden as well.  (you all probably know, but just incase English walnut are graphed onto black walnut because it has a better root stalk.)  It wouldn't surprise me if my son cut it down again, but if he doesn't (probably to avoid the world needs trees lecture)  I will have to give this tree a major hair cut.  You got to do what you got to do.  Good luck to you.  Let there be light.
 
pollinator
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A tree in the wrong position is just a weed the same as any other plant. We're cutting down literally 100's of trees on our 5 acres, all self seeded sycamore and elm. most are small up to 8inches or so but one that needs to come down is over 2foot thick. It's most certainly a weed, it's even grown up through an old building it is in a terrible position and casting shade all over my vegetable area and of course since it's a sycamore it's happily replicating itself everywhere.
Annoyingly we have to cut down 20 oak trees that the previous owner planted as a windbreak, for some stupid reason he picked oaks and then planted them 15ft from the barn they are already starting to overhang it after less than 20 years. We've also planted several fruit and nut trees in appropriate places, there's a horsechestnut I am considering murdering and another sycamore than needs to come down but that needs planning with the highways department as the road will need shutting when it is dropped.

So cut it down and plant something somewhere else or if you have no space, donate to a charity that plants trees if that will help you with it.
 
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Willow trees are very resilient and can be cut back fairly extremely each year. My recommendation (without seeing pictures, sun charts, etc.) is to cut it back to where it is manageable and harvest each year for copacing and the beautiful wattle fencing.
 
pollinator
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Location: NW California, 1500-1800ft,
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I agree with the coppice and pollard suggestion as the ideal option. The roots will die back proportionally to what you cut back, essentially injecting compost full of rooting hormones and enzymes (being a willow) into your soil. If you do need to cut it down (which is not the permaculture ideal in most cases according to Bill Mollison), you could always help that tree live on as an easily rooted cutting somewhere more suitable for you. If we are growing food as an economic necessity, it's hard to judge someone for cutting down a non-edible/medicinal tree shading the only place one could garden. However, if we are growing our food for the environmental reasons like many permies do, I think it is incumbent on us to consider other places we could garden that would not require removing trees, especially large and old trees with ecosystem services far greater than our gardens would provide.

Even oft vilified conifers have immense ecosystem services, as their needles can have many acres of surface area for slowing, spreading and sinking water, cooling waterways and land, as well as providing habitat for extremely diverse soil ecosystems (in fact the most diverse on Earth are in old-growth coniferous forests of the NW). That being said, an old-growth forest is qualitatively as well as quantitatively different than a tree farm, backyard, or street-side tree. I have removed many small trees of many kinds around my house that can act as ladder fuels in fires, so I don't mean to cast any universal condemnation of tree cutting. I just encourage thinking about what we are doing this gardening for, considering how long a tree took to grow, and its many services to us and other living things. Kind of like we benefit from considering long and hard whether we want to liquidate an investment account that took decades to grow, and make sure its for something worthwhile long term.
 
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