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God is not willing to do everything, and thus take away our free will and that share of glory which belongs to us.
Niccolo Machiavelli

Planning for Change


Gee, Those Little Trees Look Silly

Typical Pine

They started as seedlings 8 feet apart. "Lots of room," I thought.

Typical Pine

Maybe they are a bit too close...

I keep forgetting that plants grow. Have you ever brought a few flats of bedding plants home, put them out, and then looked at all that space between them?

Back to the store for another few flats. Carefully tuck them in between the ones you already planted.

Then by August they have reached their mature size, and are crammed together cheek by jowl. And you promise yourself to leave space next year. So next year you remember with the marigolds, but forget with the lilies...

I've seen it happen with trees too, but it takes a lot longer than just August.

You don't expect a garden to look uniformly good from spring to frost. Why expect it with trees. However, being humans, we are impatient, especially with the time scale required by trees. (My tree farm IS teaching me patience.) We need to think of trees as providing dynamic landscape.
Landscape that not only changes with the seasons, but changes with the years. So we'll add things for now, and take them out later.

There is a small town that passes for our nearest point of civilization (It has a gas station, a cafe, and a library. That's civilization enough.) One of the houses has a row of white spruce along the street, planted about four feet apart. Now some are dying. Too much competition for water.
The branches are growing into each other. While it's effective as a barrier to the street, it doesn't have a lot of class. What they could have done when the trees started to grow into each other was to take out alternate trees, leaving room for the remainder.

One of my customers bought 80 white spruce. He was going to put 40 on either side of his driveway, 8 feet apart. I tried to get him to see that in 30 years his driveway would be a dark canyon. I hope he doesn't wait too long before culling.

Typical Pine

They were even smaller than this when he planted them, about 5 years before this shot.

Typical Pine

Now they are ten years older. They are about 15 feet tall. Reg said he wished he had put them further apart.

A neighbor got a bunch of spruce on sale at Canadian Tire (and he chose well: most of them made it. Better luck than I have with CT trees.) He's put them 16 feet apart. The first two years they looked silly. 16 feet of space, and this 1 foot high tree, then 16 more feet of space. Then he did something clever: To fill in the space between to keep them from looking too silly, he's put a large stone from his field. (Both our properties grow a fine crop of rocks most years.) The rocks add a balance to the row.

Another neighbour put in two rows of spruce 16 feet apart, with the second row staggered. This looks good both when they are little and when they are big.

Typical Pine

Tiny trees look way too small. It may seem like I'm beating this point to death. I am. I want happy trees.

Typical Pine

Later they are too crowded. The branches will beat on each other. They will fight for water. Some will die. That in a spaced row looks like a NHL player's smile before helmets and faceguards.

Typical Pine

This is how you deal with the problem. Put in two rows. Don't have to be same.

Another option is alternate planting a slow growing and a short lived fast growing tree. This can look striking. Imagine a row of spruce with a row of birch set off in front a bit. When young, the birch grows fast (You gotta water birch. A lot.) Initially they dominate the row. The spruces take their time, but eventually they will tower over the birch, making a dark wall to contrast against the white bark.

An acreage on the way to the Big City (Edmonton) planted Colorado spruce as a hedge. Now I've been told this works. But they used spruce seedlings. Colorado spruce can vary from a pale blue white, to an almost steel blue, to a dark green, to a pale green, to almost chartreuse, with most of the wild stock being dark green to blue green. You can't tell what colour they will be until they are several years old. This acreage doesn't have two trees the same colour next to each other. It looks awful. You wonder if some are sick.

What they should have done was to get cloned stock -- named cultivars with predictable colour. (You'll have to go elsewhere. My experiments with spruce cloning have been dismal failures so far.) Or they should have used natural stock of a species that doesn't exhibit such strong variation.

Another acreage has a driveway lined with alternating green and purple leaved versions of the same species. It's spectacular, especially in the spring when they are in bloom. But there is one purple leaf tree that's only half the size of the rest. THAT sticks out like sore thumb, and ruins the effect. Fortunately it's at the far end of the drive, so I suppose most people don't notice.


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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.