April 16, 2013

Backyard Landscaping Day 1: Quaking Aspen Root Barrier



The landscaping crew started work on our backyard project today.  I've been excited about this project for months, but I began the day feeling seriously stressed after one of the workers dug out my dogwood tree to make room for their heavy equipment to access the backyard.  I expected he would take as much care with the roots as my husband did when he transplanted that tree two years ago.  I was wrong.  I'm not sure if my tree will survive with its newly tiny root ball, but I'm reminding myself that the tree is replaceable if the worst happens.  I also stressed over the damage done to the new growth on my plants when the temperature dropped to 23 degrees F last night.  Ouch.  Deep breaths. 



Speaking of deep, today was spent digging a big trench along the back fence.  Our neighbors across the fence planted a bunch of quaking aspen trees all along the property line, and I knew that the trees' famously aggressive roots would take over my backyard if we didn't create a barrier.  An older aspen tree near the corner was already producing dozens of baby aspens growing up from its roots in my strawberry patch. 



And here are some of those blasted aspen tree roots that have already grown many feet into my yard.  After the workers left, I climbed down into the trench and pulled or cut out as many roots as I could from my soil.  Even though I avoid using herbicides/pesticides in my garden, we'll have to use Roundup on the roots that get left in our ground after the project.  Tomorrow the workers are going to install a Plexiglas barrier that extends four feet deep and stretches across the entire back fence and part of the side fence.  There will be a six inch to one foot gap between the barrier and our fence, and we'll have to spray the baby trees that pop up in that area with Roundup each year.  That was the best idea the landscapers could come up with the prevent the aspens from taking over our yard.



Here is the current view from an upper window.  My kids think the big equipment and giant piles of dirt are very cool.  I think they're pretty cool as well, though I wish this part of the project wasn't costing thousands of dollars.  Looking on the bright side, at least the neighbor's aspens will provide a nice screen of leaves from our yard as well as theirs while my slower growing trees are still maturing.  



I worried plenty about my trees as the worker maneuvered the bobcat around while digging the trench.  It was a tight squeeze, but thankfully only one small branch was broken.  I'm praying for similar results tomorrow when the trench gets filled in.  Then the landscapers will remove the lawn from around the edges of the yard and install the encircling flagstone path.  More pictures to come!

20 comments:

  1. I'm excited to see this project as it progresses! I have experienced that annoyance and fear about workers not taking as much care as you wish they would. Glad so far you only have one broken branch. I'm hoping for success on the aspen root challenge.

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  2. It is really hard to find a contractor that will take thought about the little things, but it sounds like they aren't too destructive. Good luck as the project progresses!

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  3. Hooray, it's starting! My kids would be in heaven with all that dirt to play in. [Funny how your idea of awesome landscape features changes as you grow!] I've also been worried about my plants with this cold snap. Broccoli seedlings in the garden have done fine, covered up each night. So far the rest seem to be hanging on. At least after tonight it should warm up again.

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    1. Linnae, it got down to 21 degrees early this morning! I pulled some pots of plants inside and covered a few more with a sheet. Somehow my rose leaves and crabapple buds seem to have come through without damage, phew.

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  4. I am totally amazed that so much work is required to prevent those roots from entering your garden. I have never heard of anyone doing this before.
    Simply amazing.

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    1. Carolyn, I spent a lot of time searching the web for ideas on how to contain aspen roots and couldn't find much of anything. I don't know if anyone has ever done it quite like this! I felt vindicated when digging the trench exposed how many 3-inch wide roots were already growing into my yard from those trees, several feet down. It really does take something this dramatic to contain them.

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    2. I *have* read what is needed and was believing it to be only 12" of barrier, 24" to be on the safe side. Interesting that you found roots several feet down!

      I feel your pain. What a dramtic and expensive thing to go through just because your innocently naive neighbor put in a few trees without containment barriers around them.

      I would like to know more about the material used (plexiglass), what it looks like, and why that particular thing was selected. Does it look a little bit like the wavy fiberglass or vinyl awning roofing?

      Is it seemless? If not: Are you gluing, rivetting, or somehow sealing the seams?

      Thank you for the nice article.

      Here is a link to the best Aspen removal advice I have seen so far:
      http://www.savannaoak.org/aspencontrol.html
      Strip the bark in a ring around the trunk.
      Tree parasitcally takes water from roots without giving food back to the roots.
      Roots die.
      Tree then starves of water and dies.
      Takes one to two years.

      Best of luck with the new yard.

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    3. Originally the arborist suggested using metal sheeting, but the landscaping company found that plexiglass was $1,000 cheaper or so. It was just flat sheets of plexiglass, and they used duct tape to connect the pieces - they were maybe 8 or 10' long by 5' wide. Honestly I'm a little nervous about whether the plexiglass held together during backfilling. A small section along the top was smashed during the process. I can only hope that the parts underneath weren't also broken. The landscaping company hadn't ever tried anything like this before. Hopefully this will allow our neighbors to enjoy their trees - which are forming a really pretty screen that we appreciate as well - without us having to endure the invasive roots.

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  5. Oh dear. The hazards of repair crews. I hope your tree comes out of it well.

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  6. Gasp! Gasp! I think that Quaking Aspen is the largest growing organism!

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    1. Yes, the oldest grove of clonal aspens in Colorado is named Pando, is 80,000 years old, and weighs 6 million kg. That is what my yard was destined to become before the big barrier, LOL. Or maybe COL (crying out loud).

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  7. Wow, you weren't kidding when you said they were digging a trench! I never used to be an anti neighbor kind of a person, but I kind of am now - it is ridiculous you have to incur this kind of expense due to someone else's trees. I can't wait to see your flagstone path!

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    1. Stacy, we don't know those neighbors well but I think they're pretty nice people, they probably just don't know how much of a problem they created for us by planting those trees. The landscaping company said it would be just as expensive to offer to have them pull out the aspens, treat the roots to kill them, and replace them with other less invasive trees. So we're just doing this instead of trying to talk them into getting rid of their aspens.

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  8. Such a major project and also unfortunate that it had to be done at all... I admire your positive attitude about the whole situation and anytime change needs to occur, it can certainly open up some exciting possibilities! Best of luck with the entire process... Larry

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    1. Thanks Larry. I really do think that after the barrier takes care of the root problem, we're going to enjoy having the aspens there. The east half of my back fenceline is planted with honey locusts, which leaf out much later than the aspens and drop their leaves much earlier. So there will be a couple of months each year when we appreciate the aspen screen, even after my trees get big.

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  9. Wow, such a big project to tackle. I would be freaking out watching all the digging going on for fear of harm. I find it amazing how tree roots can travel. We have so many that have grown under our driveway causing damage. Why the previous homeowners did not remove those trees is beyond me. Now we must tackle the issue as those roots have gotten so large under the asphalt that cracks are forming. Good Luck!

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  10. I had no idea about the invasiveness of the aspen roots. How wonderful that you will have a barrier to keep them from your garden.

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  11. An interesting site on how to get rid of quaking aspens: http://www.savannaoak.org/aspencontrol.html

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  12. Hi there, could you update as to whether the barrier has worked? My husband wants to plant aspens with a barrier but I am not convinced they can be contained. Thanks so much!

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    1. Ashley, it has only been 1 year so I don't really know if it has worked. The problem that might come up is if the Plexiglas cracks and some roots find the crack and grow through. But we probably won't know if that has happened for years. I feel confident that the barrier will greatly reduce the number of aspen roots and shoots that come into our yard and hopefully completely stop them. You might also plant Swedish aspen (Populus tremula 'Erecta'), which look like aspens - rustling leaves and all - and can send out suckers but generally send out many fewer than normal quaking aspens, especially if you make sure not to plant it too deep. Trees are often planted too deeply at the nursery, so pull the soil away from the trunk when you get it home and plant so the top roots coming out of the trunk are just under the soil surface.

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