Friday, October 19, 2012

No Longer Stumped

Back in July I had a couple trees cut down but I wasn’t able to have the stump of my peach tree professionally ground because the machines were too big to fit within the confines of the brick that makes up the raised bed.  So I have been slowing digging it out by means of my own two hands.  Or, rather, by means of my own sore arms, an aching back and two wobbly legs. 

The peach tree gave us privacy but not peaches.  It was time for it to go.
As I mentioned in my last post (in which I whined at length about the lingering heat) it’s been really hot here for a long time.  Swinging a 5-pound mattock is hard work even in perfect weather.  When it’s a hundred degrees it just feels like punishment.  So I tackled the removal of the stump in small doses.  Sometimes I’d get out there during my lunch hour and swing an ax or pry with a shovel for 20 minutes and then retire.  When I managed to get out there early on a weekend morning I was able to work long enough to make blisters on my hands in pleasing shades of red and yellow.  But most of the time I would just go out there and stare at it, hatefully, so that it knew it was no longer welcome.

While I worked, I filled a 5-gallon bucket with the mashed up pieces of wood.  I lost track of how many times I emptied that bucket but it was more than I would ever have imagined.  When you start digging up stumps and roots you realize that a tree cut off at ground level is just like an iceberg or a character in a John Hughes film.  The substance below the surface dwarfs what you see initially.

I originally thought that this was a beautiful piece of wood cut from the top of the stump of the peach tree.
Now I know it was just the tip of the peach tree iceberg.
But since I last wrote, we have had a few days that weren’t punishingly hot and I’ve been able to expand the amount of time I was willing to work on my one-man chain gang.  And I finally finished about a week ago.  Of course, I use the term "finished" loosely.  There's still some wood buried deep down but, honestly, I didn't care anymore.  I think I removed enough that it won't be a real issue even when the wood starts to rot and the earth settles in around it.   

One of the greatest gardening joys is day-dreaming about what you want to plant when you have a clean slate.  This is especially true when space is limited and your garden plot is not resting upon a supernatural Etch-a-Sketch that can be shaken whenever things go awry or boredom with the status quo takes over.  Such has been my joy for the last two months.

This was my day-dreamer's checklist of requirements for whatever I would plant in place of the peach tree:
  • Had to take partial to full sun.
  • Had to be big enough to provide screening from the neighbor's windows.
  • Couldn't be so big that it impeded the nearby path.
  • Needed to be a good transition from the full sun part of the yard to mostly shade part of my yard.
  • I wanted it to look clean and be low-maintenance.
I considered an apple tree but decided against it because I didn’t want to deal with protecting it from worms or moths or whatever pests might attack it -- not low maintenance.  I considered planting an orange tree that I have had in a pot for several years but decided against it because I like it where it is -- besides, I thought it might get too big without constant pruning.  I considered a chaste tree and even bought one but it failed to meet the screening criteria.  I also considered a clumping bamboo called ‘Alphonse Karr’ but decided against it because even clumping bamboos should be watched carefully when planted in the ground. 

Chaste Tree bloom - in October!

I finally decided that I would, once again, ignore the advice of the experts and plant yet another Japanese maple in a full-sun location because I like them more than any other tree or plant.  And it didn’t hurt that the garden center was running a 20% off sale on all “fall color trees”.  I went with a 15-gallon Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Seiryu’.  It’s a fairly common tree but with uncommon characteristics.  The phrase you’ll hear about it most often is that it’s “the only upright growing green dissectum.”  Translated, that means it’s the only green Japanese maple that looks like the archetypal tree and still has these really cool lacy leaves. 

Seiryu leaves.
It seems like every project leads to another project.  When I removed the
previousplants from this bed it highlighted the fact that the brickwork
needs some serious attention.

I am hoping to give myself and my neighbors some privacy by blocking the view of their windows.

I under-planted the tree with 10 clumps of Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica Rubra).  I don’t think it will take too long for it to take over the entire bed.  Perhaps a year or two.  I could have purchased more, but at $6 bucks each, it would have cost a pretty penny to fill in the entire bed.  Besides, Japanese Blood Grass spreads fairly quickly and it can be divided easily. 


Now I suppose I should work on that dead patch of lawn where the mulberry tree once grew.

14 comments:

  1. I feel your pain I too had a huge stump from a water oak 75 years old and yes ...we did the same thing chipping dway like escaped prisoners in a tunnel...we use the hose to wash away dist so as not to ruin our tools....like the axe...finall we gave in too and I know it iwll rot her in Florida or the termites ill get it hahaha

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    1. At least termites are good for something!

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  2. That's one thing I'm grateful for here. As much of the property is woodland, when trees fall, or are cut, I don't really need to bother with the stumps. I've dug a few out in the past on previous properties, and I don't envy you that task. I hope your Acer is happy there. I moved one up to Davis that I couldn't bare to leave behind when we first moved to the central valley. I think the shock was too much for it though, and by the following July it was brown and crispy. Hopefully your fence will help protect it somewhat while it gets established though. Good luck!

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    1. I hope my tree is happy in this spot too! I'm willing to baby it to make sure it is and I know it might take a few years before it's got a strong enough root system to really fight off the heat of the summers here. I keep thinking I need to make some kind of temporary shade cloth screening structure to protect some of my JMs . . . someday maybe.

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  3. I've learned that the dissectums do better than full leaved varieties in full sun here in Oklahoma/Kansas. Good luck.

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    1. That's been my experience out here in California too, Greg. I talked to the owner of a semi-local nursery that specializes in acers and the Seiryu was one of the few he could recommend for a full-sun position (with the usualy caveat that it's still not the ideal spot for it, of course).

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  4. Great selection! Although Japanese maples just die on me, I love them, and envy anyone that can grow them. As for stumps, I usually just plant around them. Yes, I'm lazy.

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    1. There's something to be said for selective laziness. Life's too short for some tasks. If I thought that I could have planted my new tree in this spot without removing that old stump I would have done it in a heartbeat too.

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  5. At least once all those roots rot, you'll have really great soil! We took out some trees that were dying/dead about 3 years ago - that area is now the best planting area in the yard (as long as you avoid the main stump part that is still working on decaying).
    I love the look of the Japanese maple underplanted with Blood grass - so pretty! I hope your Japanese maple fares better than mine (which is rather crispy and neglected in the corner of the yard).

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    1. Thanks, Indie. The Japanese Blood Grass is becoming one of my go-to plants so getting to underplant the maple with it was kind of an indulgent treat for me. It looks great three seasons out of the year and I guess it looks okay in winter although brown clumps of grass aren't my ideal. What kind of Japanese maple do you have?

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  6. I have removed stumps the easy way (with a motorized vehicle of one sort or another), and the hard way (just like you did), though I have heard that you can pile charcoal briquettes on top of a stump and burn it right into the ground. THAT sounds like fun. However you do it, it seems to go better if you can get someone to come outside every so often and shout, "SHANE! Come back, S-h-a-n-e!!" Lends kind of an epic feel to the project. I love your new tree.

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    1. I've heard of burning stumps out but I never thought about charcoal. Dang. Now I kinda want to cut down another tree just so I can try that.

      I laughed at the "Shane" idea. I'd ask my wife to do it but I think she'd rather yell other things at me.

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  7. I have a Cercis stump out front if you want to practice some more. ;^) Seriously, congrats on the stump removal. Nothing is as big a garden relief as a stump gone.

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  8. I am really interested in the Seiryu maple, it's been on my list for a long time. I'll want to see how yours does. I can't find it locally in southern New England and will have to mail order a tiny one I am sure.

    Fall color is supposed to be spectacular. I have seen it referred to as Blue Green Dragon --- I assume the leaves are a blue green color sort of. Love everything about this tree, except that I don't have it in my garden! Yet. I hope yours does well where you put it with the decomposing stump nutrients.

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