Tag Archives: Abies procera Glauca

Farewell Noble Fir

Abies procera glauca – a handsome tree in the wrong place

Farewell Blue Noble Fir. The Abies procera glauca is no more. This was not a decision we reached lightly. The tree was almost as old as our house, planted in the early 1950s. It started life here as a pleasingly pyramidal tree in the rockery but when it soon showed that it was not going to remain suitably compact, Felix moved it to a new location beside the driveway. It was placed so it did not block any sun from the house, though it did cast shade over the washing line. And it grew and grew.

Abies procera cones – several barrow loads fell every year

Abies procera is native to USA, particularly north west California and Oregon and it can grow to 70 metres high, some recorded even at 90m. I do not think Felix checked its potential height when he planted it or he would have put it down in the park. In its 65 years here, it reached maybe 25 metres and it was not stopping growing. Mark began to express anxiety about it several years ago. It took me a while to come around to the idea of removing such a handsome specimen. As it grew taller, its spread also increased and Mark was getting worried that the enormous cones – up to 20cm in size – would soon start falling on our fragile roof tiles. They would crack every tile they hit. We have never had either person or vehicle hit by a falling cone but that is more by good luck than good management, given its prime location.

Oh look! There it is in the rockery in the 1960s before being moved further (but not far enough) from the house

More worryingly, the weight of the tree was on the side closest to the house which meant that if it came down, it would fall on the house. It would, in all likelihood, demolish much of the house. With growing experience of falling trees here and mindful of the high probability of increasingly severe and frequent weather events, it just wasn’t a risk we were comfortable taking any longer. We have many trees, some very large, but this was the only tree that threatened the house.

This was a job for a specialist Because of its sheer size, its location close to the house, surrounded by some rather special plants we wanted to save, stone walls, pond, septic tank and other considerations, it was going to need to be dismantled and taken down branch by branch. We discovered we had an arborist up the road and asked for a quote. The price came in at considerably less than I had feared and we crossed our fingers that he knew what he was doing. He did.

The location and flat grown meant a cherry picker could be used, for the lower 17.5 metres at least

The operation took two days. On the first day, he used a cherry picker with a reach up to 17.5 metres to remove almost all the side branches and foliage. Goodness, the cherry picker makes an arborist’s job much easier, faster and presumably safer. We watched in admiration as he was able to control dropping branches in the few, available clear spaces before he had to move onto roping and then lowering larger pieces by winch. It was only the top eight metres he had to do by climbing into the tree.

On day two, he dropped the last length of stripped trunk in one piece. He and his assistant – on this occasion, his wife – cleaned up as they went, chipping the branches and foliage so that we now have two truckloads of fresh garden mulch. When he left at the end of day two, everything was cleaned up except the wood that is to be split for firewood. All the mess had been raked up and the paved areas cleaned with a leaf blower. The total damage was limited to holes in the lawn where heavy branches had hit and one camellia that is a little smaller than at the start. Given the tight space he was working in, we were super impressed.

If anybody local wants a skilled (and cheerful) arborist, contact me. We are happy to recommend him.

For those of you curious about the firewood: yes, there is plenty of it but it is really just like soft pine so fine for burning but not top quality.

Picea omorika is the narrow tree in the centre. It, too, will have to be felled before it falls of its own accord

The Picea omorika still has to be dropped. Again, we hesitated but it will fall too, and probably sooner rather than later. It is a good example of a tree that was not kept to a single leader in its infancy. It grew with three trunks. Two have split out in storms in recent years, which is why we think the remaining trunk will also go. If we get it dropped, the damage can be controlled and I can still keep the essential bottom two metres to which the washing line is tied.

Alas poor kereru

We certainly felt sad to fell a mighty Noble Fir. We felt even sadder when on day two of the process, a kereru (our lovely native wood pigeon which is regarded as vulnerable, though not endangered) flew straight into an upstairs window and died. We had wondered why birds did not hit those windows when they hit the other upstairs windows, but now realise that it must have been the proximity of the tree that slowed their flight. I went to town the next day and bought a curtain rail and sheer curtains to screen the windows. While we would prefer not to have screened windows, the threat to birds from our double-glazed windows which turn into mirrors on the outside, outweighs our personal indoor preference. Bird strike is not a problem when windows are open because of the change in angles, so we hang screening curtains on curtain hooks and rail (as opposed to curtain wire) so they can easily be pulled to one side when the windows are open.

Maybe the key point of our late Abies procera, is that when planting trees, it pays to look to the future – not 20 years but 50 or more. A miscalculation by the previous generation can leave a vegetable time bomb for the next.

“The ulmus must go!” Vegetative time bombs

Growing well but just too large for this location – Umus ‘Jacqueline Hillier’

It’s no good. The ulmus must go. Ulmus ‘Jacqueline Hillier’ to be precise. I feel a little sad about this because it is a fine plant. I love it with its detailed bare tracery in winter. I love it with its fresh, bright green growth in spring and its lush summer appearance. I love its elegant and interesting form. It is a good plant in the wrong place.

It was I who planted it at the front of the rockery. At the time, we were still in full nursery production and it was one of the product lines. I see we described it at the time as reaching two metres by two metres, which I assume are the dimensions that were given to us when we first acquired it. That is why I thought it would be fine in the rockery where we could prune as required. It is now around four metres high and more than that in width of canopy and that is despite several major pruning efforts to restrict it over the past decade. The root system is extensive and suckers are popping up many metres away. It is just too big for where it is planted and is now so strong that it is increasingly difficult to grow anything beneath it and it is only a matter of time before the roots fracture the rockery structure.

It will require a chainsaw and we will get some firewood out of it but killing off the extensive root system is going to take poison, something we prefer to avoid.

Abies procera ‘Glauca’ – handsome but too close to the house

We are not unfamiliar with vegetative time bombs. We have a few, none more so than our very handsome Abies procera ‘Glauca’.

Oh look, here is a little photo taken earlier. Best guess is that it is early 1960s, when Felix planted it in the rockery. I am reassured that he, too, could plant without doing adequate research on ultimate size. Or maybe he thought it was a dwarf conifer at the time. At least he moved it out of the rockery while he could but it would have been helpful had he moved it more than 8 metres from the house. It is now over 20 metres tall, though not very wide, and we are psyching ourselves up for its removal. Should it fall (and it did have an issue with rot at its base, though that appears to have healed over time), it is likely to take out a good part of the house, starting with our bedroom. It is one of those major and expensive jobs that we know is coming up sooner, rather than later. Beautiful tree. Wrong location.

Spring growth on the left, 30 minutes trimming on the right

Some plants are more amenable to being kept in check. This little green maple (species long forgotten) is easy to keep at a controlled size. Once a year, I spend about half an hour trimming off all the long whippy growths and thinning the crown if needed and bob’s your uncle, an attractive vase-shaped plant. If I didn’t trim off the whippy growths, next year the new growth would be made at the tops of those so the plant would become considerably taller and more open over time.

A noxious weed: Commelina “Sleeping Beauty’ does not sleep

And as for vegetative time bombs that should be banned altogether, I give you Commelina coelstris ‘Sleeping Beauty’. I wrote about its bad habits five years ago and still it continues to reappear in the rockery, despite the fact that we are vigilant weeders and nowhere more so than in the rockery. It is worse than the weedy tradescantia.  Not only does it seed, but any piece of root left behind grows again. I nominate it for the banned list but one of our premier seed suppliers continues to sell this noxious weed. Shun it, is my advice.

Things that fall from above

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Mark is feeling anxious. At this time of the year, the very large Abies procera ‘Glauca’ just out from our back door is dropping its cones. Very large cones they are, and prolific too. We know not to park the car beneath the tree lest the panel work get dented. However, one falling cone almost took Mark out yesterday, hitting the ground mere centimetres in front of where he was walking at the time. The tree was planted by his father who relocated it from the rockery in front of the house when it was clear that in fact it was neither very slow-growing nor a dwarf specimen as he had thought. Unfortunately, the site he chose is less than ideal, being close to the house and immediately beside the driveway.

Abies procera 'Glauca'

Abies procera ‘Glauca’

I doubt that should a cone land upon the head of a passing human, it would do major damage but it would not be a pleasant experience. And at the back of my mind, I recall a story some years ago of a poor woman in an Auckland park being killed by a falling seed cone – from a palm tree, I think. That is seriously bad luck.

img_3325While on the subject of falling plant material – and leaving aside our elderly Pinus radiata and eucalyptus which have been known to fall from time to time – the fronds from assorted palms can be fairly major. The photo is of a nikau palm, breaking off close to the ground so any damage is minimal. But the falling fronds from our Queen palms (Syagrus romanzoffiana) can wreak some havoc, breaking entire branches from the shrubs beneath them. When you look up, they don’t look worrying, but when they fall, they are often a good 4 metres in length and the curved pod of the leaf – still technically a petiole, I think – is as heavy and solid as wood. They could serious damage to a car beneath or indeed rip the spouting off the side of your house if you have it planted close by.

Queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana)

Queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana)

When it became all the rage to plant palm trees in Auckland in the 1990s, we couldn’t help but think that many folk did not realise how large they can grow and how much damage mature falling fronds can then cause.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and as gardeners, we tend to make our big planting mistakes early in our years. These can certainly come back to haunt us, or indeed subsequent property owners, many years down the track. At least our Queen palms are in locations where falling fronds are not a huge issue but we have learned not to plant any special trees or shrubs beneath them. The alternative is to only grow plants up to 2 or 3 metres in height and that simply would not do at all for us.

Many Abies procera cones

Many Abies procera cones