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Overplanted in Seattle

    For many years I have studied trees, seeing the success and popularity of certain kinds rise, peak, decline, and fall. Some trees are almost perfect, it seems. But after tens of thousands are planted, and decades go by, we start to see drawbacks --or hitherto non-existant problems. Read on for the five trees that I judge have been overplanted in the Seattle area, and my complaints about them. In the next newsletter I will share a list of under-used trees that are worthy of wider planting in our area. Since Seattle has more than 1,000 different kinds of trees, let us keep diversity a goal, and not plant the same few trees over and over.

Acer palmatum ---Japanese Maple
    Verticillium wilt is becoming too common. If it were not for this sad fact, I would likely rank this a five-star tree. It is unparalled in its diversity of form, color, leaf shape, and role in the landscape. Many dozens of different kinds are sold in nurseries. But I am tired of hearing from people whose prized specimens are on the decline. For whatever reason, this ugly disease has become more prevalent in the last decade.

Cercidiphyllym japonicum ---Katsura
    Too thirsty --and if it gets the water it desires it grows awkwardly gigantic. In its native China and Japan, there is ample summer rainfall. In Seattle our dry summers hurt this lovely tree, causing fall color in August. But if we do water it, most of us have too little room for its great size. Specimens some 60 to 70 years old can be nearly 100 feet tall; it is often nearly as wide as tall. So it is ideal only if you have a large, irrigated garden. But planting it in an unirrigated parking strip is a mistake.

Cornus Kousa ---Kousa Dogwood
    Too thirsty. It loathes our dry summers and is horribly stunted. In this regard it is just like the Katsura. Happily, Kousa Dogwood will not grow too large for small gardens. I love the tree's appearance, health, and its colorful seasonal displays. But because of its virtues, and despite its thirst, it is being overplanted. It blooms in June, and Seattle would benefit by more trees that bloom later in summer.

Stewartia spp. ---Stewartia
    Too thirsty. If you have a moist woodland garden, they can be superb small trees. Too many are planted in hot, exposed, sunny sites. This can work if they are mulched, and get some watering, or are in water-rententive soil. In the past this was a rare collector's item; now everyone wants one. But most of us lack ideal conditions for them

Prunus spp. ---Flowering Cherries and Plums
    Boringly overplanted; too much bacterial canker, brown rot, delayed graft-incompatibility, and cherry bark tortrix. The worst culprit is the delayed graft incompatibility of the flowering cherries. This happens when Japanese cultivars are grafted on European rootstocks --a nearly universal practice these days. It guarantees a short life. Own-root cherries, or Japanese clones on Japanese rootstocks, will live far longer and grow far larger. Purpleleaf Plums are more planted here than anywherre else, and we simply do not need more gloom all summer, what with a goodly percent of our population dressing in black already, and a plethora of purple maples, beeches, smoke trees and whatnot.

(originally published in the Summer 2004 PlantAmnesty newsletter; page 9)

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Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert

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