If you read through the details on our August Income Statement and Balance Sheet, you might have noticed that we set a bit of money aside from last month’s bounty for some maintenance on our tree. And by “a bit of money”, I mean $1,200. It’s a non-trivial sum in my mind.
What’s the Deal With “The Tree”?
The Tree is a live oak that by all estimates is 50+ years old. That’s pretty darned old for a tree in this area, considering the neighborhood wasn’t even platted out until the 1960′s, and most lots around here were razed when the homes were built – and that was mostly in the early to mid-nineties. (Our house is one of the oldest on the block and it’s from the mid-eighties.) The Tree is in our front yard, and is far and away the dominant feature there.
I’m not going to lie – we are suckers for oaks, and were long before we ended up finding this house. And while we didn’t buy the house for the tree, it was definitely in the “bonus column”. In an area that’s dominated by palm trees, our live oak serves as a beautiful source of shade, not to mention home for squirrels, blue jays, and I don’t even know what else. The armadillos love poking their noses around its roots looking for the latest grubs, and the acorns that fall from it every year provide sustenance for more squirrels and blue jays than you can imagine.
Weird fact – a blue jay will swallow two acorns whole, then hold a third in its beak before flying back to deliver the food at the nest. It’s super odd to watch. Kitty PoP’s tower of power stands right next to a window through which he can watch all the excitement that the oak tree provides – so he could probably tell you better than anyone all the animals that come and go through the tree. Ya know, if he could talk.
But. There’s always a but, isn’t there?
The Tree is huge. My best guess is that it is easily over 50 feet tall and that its branches extend out over an area at least 50 feet in diameter. Its sheer size has presented some problems for Mr. PoP and I over the last 3 years.
- The roots have shifted and lifted the concrete slabs of the driveway. Since the trunk is only 4 feet from the driveway, it’s not a shock that the massive roots (to support the massive tree) needed somewhere to go and ended up shifting the driveway slabs a bit. It was a problem that we knew about when we bought the house (we actually used this as a negotiation point to get a better price), but it has gotten slightly worse in the last 3 years. For now, we plan on living with an ugly driveway – and luckily the tree is far enough away from the house that the roots are small when they reach our foundation and we’ve been told it shouldn’t ever cause problems there.
- The dense leaves provide too much shade. I know that I should never complain about too much shade in Florida, but the dense foliage actually makes it really hard to grow anything underneath it. Grass has a tough time coming in nice and full without more sun, and we’ve struggled with growing smaller plants next to the house because the limited sunlight has made it tough. We tried some “medium sunlight” plants (gardenias, actually!), and they never really took. For now I’m blaming that on the lack of sunlight, but we’re going to do some further research and probably replace the pitiful gardenias this fall.
- It’s too big for us to manage on our own. This is a big one since Mr. PoP and I DIY things around the house as much as possible to save money. But, with the exception of trimming the occasional branch that starts to hang low into the driveway, we just don’t have the machinery or expertise to really manage the growth of this tree. It’s gotten so bad recently that it seems like no matter how often we cut it, the branches touch the roof again in no time. (This is exacerbated that the acorns are starting to grow, and the branches get really heavy and droopy when they are covered with 8 billion acorns.)
Removal Or Preservation?
We’ve already removed a handful of trees from the side of our property that were too close to the house because of how big they were getting. Not to mention, they were types of trees that are well known around here for having invasive root structures or having the tops blow off and cause major problems in “wind events” (a nice euphamism for tropical storms and the like).
We didn’t feel bad about having these trees removed because we felt we were looking out for the well being of our house, and we got the added benefit of opening up a huge area of the lot where we can dream of building a giant 2-car garage and addition someday. You know, when we finally take care of that cookie problem.
The oak tree is a different matter, though. We’ve been told it’s not a danger to the house as long as its growth is maintained – something that hasn’t been addressed in at least 5 years (maybe even more – we’re not sure as we’ve only lived here for 3 years and it was a rental and then a foreclosure before then). Knowing that our house isn’t in danger, we can’t even bring ourselves to get quotes on what it would cost to remove the tree.
So Mr. PoP called around and we’re in the midst of getting estimates on the work that’s necessary to keep the oak tree and manage its growth better. So far, the arborist that we like the best has recommended a few things that sound pretty good to us:
- Trim back all the branches so that there is a 16 foot clearance above the roof, the ground, and above the height of cars over the driveway. Since the tree should grow about 3-4 feet/year this should buy us 4-5 years before we get to this point again.
- Check all the branch joints for cracks – apparently this means that the tree is having trouble supporting both branches, and one must be removed otherwise they might both break off. He pointed one such crack out to us that supports two good sized branches over the driveway. I’d rather these not fall on our cars someday.
- Thin out the foliage generally. Apparently this shouldn’t change how the tree looks, but the top won’t be quite as heavy, and there will be more room for the branches to grow back within the existing tree top before growing back out onto the house.
It’s looking like it’s going to be in the neighborhood of $1,000 to do this right. And considering we think that should last us about 4-5 years, that makes it about $200-250/year. It sounds pretty reasonable to us, since this thing is so massive that this is not a job we can do ourselves.
“Topping” the tree would probably be a lot cheaper, and we certainly wouldn’t need a certified arborist – just a guy with a lift bucket and a chainsaw. But topping is bad for trees – it can actually cause the tree to be more likely to damage and since it doesn’t really provide a growth plan it often needs to be done again very soon – not to mention that we think topped trees are ugly.
What do you guys think? Have you ever had to deal with an issue like this one? We don’t pay for other landscape services, so the $200-250 / year doesn’t seem quite as bad, right? Would you spend the money? Or just try and go up there with a ladder and DIY?
Also – should we name the tree?