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The worst mistake a man can make is to do nothing because he feels he can do little.
James Burke

Poplars (Populus) at Sherwood's Forests

Aspen Wall Mature Aspen Grove at Sherwood's Forests

Populus

Poplars are of the "Live fast, and die young" school. The aspens generally last about 30-50 years. Hybrid poplars have an unknown life span, but based on their faster growth rate will probably be between aspen and balsam. A balsam poplar is old at a century.


Name Sex Height Width Native Forms
Balsam Poplar Mixed 80-110 ft. 40-50 ft. Yes C,P,#2
Brooks #6 Poplar Male 35-50 ft. 15-25 ft. No C,#2
Hill Poplar Female 35-50 ft. 10-20 ft. No C,#2
Okanese Poplar Male 30-40 ft. 10-20 ft. No C,P,#2
Prairie Sky Poplar Male 70-90 ft. 10-12 ft. No C,#2,BR
Northwest Poplar Male 60-80 ft. 45-60 ft. No C,#2,BR
Skyfest Cottonwood Male 70-90 ft. 25-35 ft. No C,#2
Sundancer Poplar Male 35-45 ft. 8-12 ft. No C,#2
Trembling Aspen Mixed 35-50 ft. 15-25 ft. Yes P,#2,BB
Swedish Aspen Male 35-45 ft. 3-6 ft. No #7,#10
Prairie Skyrise Aspen Male 30-35 ft. 2-4 ft. No #7,#10

Forms: C=Cutting; P=Plug; #2=2 gallon pot; BR=Bare Root; BB=ball & burlap

Eleven trees in a single file is a bit much: You will find them broken down here:

Native Poplars Trembling Aspen and Balsam poplar

Shelterbelt Poplars Hill poplar, Brooks #6 poplar, Okanese Poplar

Shade Poplars Northwest poplar and Skyfest cottonwood

Columnar PoplarsSwedish Aspen, Prairie Skyrise Aspen, Prairie Sky poplar and Sundancer poplar.


Summary:

Our Poplars

We carry eleven poplars ranging from the formal swedish aspen to the large balsam poplar. Sizes are of a mature healthy tree. Trees will vary considerably depending on local conditions. (You will find that my numbers are not very consistent. Depends on which source I checked.) Width is dependent on spacing. Widths above are for a tree in the open. In a forest poplar will expand to the the numbers above, or to the crowns just meeting, whichever happens first.

Be careful: There is some potential for confusion with 'sky' being part of three different names. In particular Sky and Skyrise are unfortunate choices.

Bad habits

All poplars sucker. The least bad this way is swedish aspen. Suckers can pop up 10 to 50 ft. away from the main tree. Roots remain connected underneath. Root damage increases chance of suckering. Do not plant next to a garden you till or dig in regularly. In the lawn they can just be mowed.

Poplar are generally untidy. Everytime you have a strong wind you will find twigs and leaves on the ground. These clippings mulch with mowing, but if you like a perfect yard, you will be frustrated. As they mature, shaded branches die off,then drop off. This is a once or twice a year pickup job, as many will be too much for the mower.

Use in the landscape

Because of their quick growth, poplar are good for the barren lot acreages that developers seem to love. Plant now. You will have trees with some height in a few years. Meanwhile you can plant trees that take longer to grow. In a couple of decades you can start taking down the poplars for firewood.

Alternate Prairie Skyrise Aspen and Black Hills Spruce on your driveway for a formal looking entrance. The aspen will only take 3-4 years to look good. The spruce will take longer.

I saw one acreage that had a shallow drainage ditch on either side of the driveway, and balsam poplar planted every 20 ft.. The poplar were huge, meeting overhead. Made for a stately entrance.

Poplar are a good shelterbelt species, especially in heavy clay soils. They need supplemental water or heavy mulch during the first 3 years.

When young they can put on several ft. a year. Get a trio of sturdy 5 gallon potted poplar this summer, and with lots of water and a bit of fertilizer, you can hang your hammock in 5 years or less. "Why three?" you ask, "It only takes two trees to hang a hammock." With three, one at north, the other two at southeast and southwest, you can almost always put your hammock in the shade. If you plant 6, it's certain.

Try six or eight Northwest Poplar or Balsam poplar at 15 foot intervals around a fire pit/picnic patio. (You can expand this to 25 ft.) Six at 15 foot makes 30 foot diameter circle. Right size for family get togethers. If you have a mob over, 8 at 20 ft. gives you a 50 foot circle. With time, they drop their lower branches. Sun reaches the patio in late afternoon or early morning, but you are shaded during the hot part of the day.

I like poplar for firewood. They don't provide as much heat per cord as spruce, but then they don't provide as much creosote on the inside of my woodstove. I find that I can cut up a cord of poplar in half the time it takes me to do a cord of spruce. Birch is better wood, but birch has to be split. The bark is so waterproof that a birch round will rot and grow mushrooms long before it dries out.

Plant a 200 trees every four years. After 20 years you won't have to buy firewood again.

How to choose?

Pricing and Availability:

Poplar and cottonwood are available as cuttings (C) and as two gallon trees (#2) 2.5-4 ft. tall. We can get larger ones some years on request. Some of them are available some years as bare root larger trees. (BR)

Most people realize that they grow so fast that a larger tree is just more work to plant and only saves a year.

Okanese, Northwest, and Trembling aspen have been available the last several years as plugs. (P) $25/bundle of 10. These are fast to plant, but not very big. Easy to mow. Order 10% extra, and plant in 2 gallon pots. This will give you spares to drop in place.

Swedish aspen and Prairie Skyrise aspen are usually only available as 10 gallon growbags (#10) or 5 gallon pails. (#7) \

Nuthatch's view of Balsam Poplar Nuthatch's view of Balsam Poplar

Balsam poplar get BIG. This is a nuthatch's view of one in my back yard. The top is over a hundred feet up.


Natural History

Poplar are dioecious -- male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. The tree's flowers are borne in catkins. Think 1" long chunks of green pencil, covered in nubs. They bloom in late winter/early spring before the leaves open. The males release large quantities of pollen on the wind, which can travel unimpeded by leaves to the female flowers on another tree. A month or so later the females produce large quantities of cottony seeds that fly in the wind. The seeds have to fall on bare earth to sprout. Some people hate it for this reason. I think of it as warm snow.

Poplar and willow pollen is the first food for bees in spring.

Poplars self prune. As they mature, the lower branches get less sunlight, die, and drop off. A dead lower branch is not an indicator of trouble. Dead branches in the crown may mean insect activity, or that the tree is nearing end of life. If more than a third of the branches in the crown are dead, the tree should be removed if its fall is likely to hit anything important, like the house or the Ferrari.

Many poplars will produce a sucker when the root is damaged. Some will produce a sucker just because they can. These suckers are not generally at the base of the tree, but 10 to 40 ft. away from the parent tree. In this way a single poplar can become a grove of poplar. Each trunk is a 'ramet' and is genetically identical to the parent plant. Root connections between ramets persist.

My botany prof told a story of a man who attempted to poison a poplar growing in his lawn by drilling a hole in the trunk, and adding a strong solution of copper sulphate. He killed the entire grove, some of which were 75 ft. away. Oops. The law of unintended consequences strikes again.

**Diseases of Populus in British Columbia Your poplar sick? While a BC guide isn't quite Alberta, it covers a lot of the same ground.

Warnings



Got something to say? Email me: sfinfo@sherwoods-forests.com

Want to talk right now? Talk to me: (8 am to 9 pm only, please) 1-780-848-2548


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Sherwood's Forests is located about 75 km southwest of Edmonton, Alberta. Please refer to the map on our Contact page for directions.