Tag Archives: Abies procera Glauca

“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


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