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One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen.
Robert A. Heinlein

Rural Columnar Poplar

Wide spaced row of (I think) Tower poplar on a farm road near Camrose. Note the smaller orange leaved trees between them.

Columnar Poplar

Prairie Sky, Sundancer Poplars & Swedish Aspen

These four trees have one thing in common: They are all 4 to 8 times as tall as they are wide: Very narrow for their height.


Places they don't belong

Prairie Sky Boulevard

An example of columnar poplar (Prairie Sky, I think) used as a boulevard tree in a rural setting

To Fluff or Not to Fluff

Poplars are dioecious -- male and female flowers are on separate plants. All four of these cultivars are male: Some pollen in the spring. No fluff later.

Columnar poplar are FAST. With good growing conditions, (keep damp, fertilize lightly in October and June) it will grow 5 feet a year, once established. Even the first year in it's new home they often put on a two feet or more.

All poplar need lots of sun. -- at least 6 hours a day of full sun. You can't plant them even in their own shade. If you have a poplar bush you are trying to rejuvinate, you can't just plant baby poplars in among the poplars. (See Rejuvenating Poplar Bush)

Poplar tend to shed their lower branches when they are shaded. Basically, the tree is abandoning unproductive food factories, and concentrating it's resources on the more productive leaves near the top.

Row of Lombardy Poplar

Think about a row like this on either side of your acreage driveway. This is a row of lombardy poplar, a tree with a similar size and shape to Prairie Sky. (Lombardy isn't hardy here.)

Columnar poplars as screening trees

Planting them too close together will result in lower branches falling off. I don't recommend these trees for screening

I lose sales because of this advice. At best I sell half the trees I could. So be it. It's important to me that you get the right tree, and use it in a way that is beautiful. In the long run, I figure that giving the best advice I can will pay off.

Columnar Poplar on the Acreage

In any case, I suggest leaving room for your mower between the trees and the property edge. This makes keeping it neat looking quite easy.

Poplar are normally water pigs. It's hard to overwater, and they prefer soils that are constantly moist. Loam is best. They tolerate fairly heavy clay soils, but do not do well in a water logged clay soil. If planted in sandy soil they will need supplemental irrigation their entire life.

Poplar are not long lived trees. Plan on replacing them in 50-75 years.

Let's go from tall down to short.

Prairie Sky

Young Prairie Sky poplar.

Prairie Sky

This tree is supposed to get to 80 feet tall by, (depending on whose lies you believe,) between 8 and 12 feet wide. Trouble is, I've not been able to find a picture of a mature one. I suspect they are looking at the parents, and siblings -- varieties that shared the same parents. You too can be part of an adventure.

Prairie Sky is a better alternative to Tower poplar. Tower has similar parantage, but is subject to bronze leaf disease (not as susceptable as Swedish aspen) Tower also gets stem canker.

Sundancer poplar

Sundancer poplar. Image courtesy Poplar and Willow Council


If Prairie Sky is a bit much for you, consider Sundancer. Same width, half the height. We'll see. The ones in my arboretum seem to be about 1/5 as wide as they are high. So far sundancer has a very smooth outline much like a candleflame.

More info about Sundancer (PDF fact sheet, Poplar and willow council) Alternate link Sundancer

Prairie Skyrise Trembling Aspen

This is a mutation of our native trembling aspen. It basically makes lots of short branches from the trunk, rather than a few long ones. The tree has very little taper -- it's basically a cylinder of closely spaced leaves. However it is an aspen, and has all the troubles our native trembling aspen have: Suckers, a bunch of bugs that like to eat it, fall colour that doesn't stand out. Because of the tight packed leaves it also gets a few fungi that take advantage of the high humidity of all those leaves sweating in a confined space.

Production as of 2016 isn't anything to write home about. Stay tuned.

2020: I no longer recommend this tree. I can get it as a special order item. Please contact me in fall for spring delivery.

Mature Swedish Aspen

A fine example of a mature Swedish Aspen starting to turn colour in the fall. In an open sunny location like this, Swedish Aspen will hold on to their lower branches.

Swedish Aspen

Swedish aspen is the tree for fast growth in small spaces.

Swedish Aspen is a cultivar of European trembling aspen with a much more acute node angle. The branches ascend almost parallel to the trunk. This makes for a tree that is shaped like a candle flame. Very striking.

Because of it's size, it is ideal for use on small yards, and can be used fairly close to the house. It's tall upright habit make it formal looking. Because it's a poplar it grows fast. It is a good tree to plant while you wait for your other trees to get big.

Aspen in Residential Neighbourhood

Swedish Aspen in a residential neighbourhood. This tree is on the north side of fence. Getting steady shade, it's dropped all branches that are shaded by the fence.

Some garden centres will claim that Swedish Aspen does not sucker. Not true. While it is less prone to suckering than many of the poplar family, it will sucker when its roots are damaged. If you plant a flower bed that gets regular shovel work near an aspen, you will get suckers in the flower bed. You will also get occasional suckers in the lawn, but these are dealt with by the mower.

Finally a warning: Poplar roots are invasive. For obvious reasons they should not be planted on or near septic fields. They will find their way through small cracks in pipes. This can be a problem with older sewer lines (non-plastic) as the joints on these frequently leak. It can also be a problem if you have weeping tile near the surface. Weeping tile at the foot of a basement foundation is not usually at risk from poplar. Their roots are mostly right at the surface. This is not a problem with poured concrete foundations. It is not a problem with water lines, or ABS (black plastic) sewer lines.

Swedish Aspen leaves aren't green when they open. Rather they are rusty orange to red. The leaves open without any chlorophyll, but with some of the carotenoids (xanthophyll -- yellow & lycopene -- red) and anthocyanins (red, purple pigments) in place. In cool weather they will maintain this colour for one to two weeks. In warm weather it lasts only a few days. This same red pigment on some years gives the fall foliage a pink colour.

Red Swedish Aspen Leaves

The leaves when first open can range from dark red to rusty orange. Notice how thin and fragile the leaf looks. It will fill in a few days.

Swedish Aspen leaves greening up.

With exposure to warm temperatures and sunlight, the chlorophyll factories start up, turning the leaf green.

Swedish Aspen normal leaves.

Ok. I need a pic of a green leaf. Stay tuned.

Swedish Aspen and Bronze Leaf Disease

Swedish Aspen is susceptible to a fungus called Bronze Leaf Disease. Individual leaves, and clusters of leaves turn rusty red or copper coloured in late summer. The veins remain green. The leave doesn't get 'crispy' the way you would expect a dead leaf to, but is sort of leathery. The fungus will spread inward down the stem, eventually killing the tree.

Bronze Leaf Disease

Closeup of infected leaves

Bronze Leaf Disease

Here's a look at a typical infected tree. You can see that finding and removing all of the affected leaves is a time consuming operation. Hard enough with an 8 foot tree, imagine doing this on a 30 foot tree.

Infected leaves often stay attached to the tree over winter.

The fungus overwinters in the leaves either on the tree or on the ground. In spring, the fungus releases spores which infect newly opened leaves. The leaves are without symptoms until late August. In addition the fungus will grow down the interior of the twig. When it reaches the roots it will kill the tree. Swedish aspen planted in a row will share roots, so one untreated infected tree can kill a row in a few years.

All Swedish Aspens are clones from a single specimen. There is no chance to breed a resistant type. There is no treatment for BLD at this time except immediate pruning of infected branches.

One producer in Manitoba and another in Saskatchewan have stopped growing Swedish Aspen. Control measures were taking too much time. Manitoba summers tend to be hot and humid, much more humid than Alberta generally, so it may be possible to control here.

You can fight a delaying action:


Here are some steps you can use to keep out of trouble:


One answer is to plant something else. The closest tree is a North American trembling aspen cultivar called Prairie Skyrise. It and a raft of other options are detailed here: Skinny Trees

Another answer is to build a trellis, and grow vines. I don't do vines yet (although I have just started this year with grapes).

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