Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Trees for the Homestead

Since we have decided to build up on top of the hill (easier to grade, easier to layout, nice view of the farm, easy driveway, just plain better) we need to begin thinking about the types of trees we want to plant around the house and yard. There are a ton of positives from building up on the hill, the downside is that we have no shade and no windbreak for the winter. So, we are thinking about trees... Specifically we are thinking about planting trees in a couple of stages. Some fast growing trees to establish something, and then some slower growers that will be the trees of the future.

When it comes to windbreaks there are a few hybrids that always get mentioned, and those are the ones I'm looking at right now. The first one is the Austree. They are fast growing and used quite a bit here in Iowa. They even have a free DVD you can order from their website, but their prices aren't published online. I do have a little experience with the Austree as some of our family has planted them before and they did alright and grew fast like they were supposed to. The next one that I see mentioned and advertised are the hybrid poplars. Supposedly you plant them nine feet apart and in three years you will have a windbreak. It looks like you can get five of them for $22.99 (3'-4' tall). The last one that we are looking at right now is thehybrid willow. They are always advertised in the same catalogs that the poplars are in and they are appealing mostly because of their price, five for $7.50. According to the link above they come as 2-3 foot trees and grow more quickly than the hybrid poplars. At that price we could get a good sized windbreak going for a low price, but I want to learn more.

As far as shade trees go, well we have a bit more research to do. You can purchase various fast growing shade trees including in the Hybrid Poplar variety. According to advertising they can live for 30 to 50 years mature to about 50 feet tall in a few years. We would like to place something like this around the house to help shade things a little and provide a little ambiance. But, we realize they would just be temporary.

Now, when it comes to the long term plan trees... Well, let's just say I don't have as much of a handle on those. I know that we want to have a nice stand of pines to act as a windbreak and we like some of the hardwoods for shade, but that is about the extent of my planning at this point. I would love to hear from you if you have any experience with any of these fast growing trees or if you would like to vote for some good "stage two" trees for Southern Iowa.


Steven said...

People around here love to put some kind of fast growing poplar tree in their yards and every big storm knocks down half of them. They make such a pretty "tree shape" and then half of the tree gets laid on the ground... so yeah, they aren't permanent.

I've very interested in this subject because we have all flat ground and lots of wind so I can't wait to hear more comments.

KVMAPR said...

Ethan, by the looks of the Austree website, they appear to be selling hybrid poplars and hybrid willows (although calling them Austree, may be in an effort to differentiate themselves). The prices you're seeing in catalogs are ridiculously high, especially given how easy it is to grow hybrid poplars and willows from cuttings stuck into soil. If you "must" buy some trees, then I highly recommend www.hybridpoplars.com. Great trees, great prices, and great service from a great guy (running his own small business). But even cheaper still, you might track down a friend who has a poplar, willow, or Austree growing in their yard. Ask if you can take a few cuttings from "last year's" growth. Stick those six inch cuttings in the dirt, water liberally, and watch them grow. Nothing better than a free tree. One caution, don't plant them within 50 feet of your house (the roots like to run and can come to the surface as the trees age, makes an obstacle to mowing). Good luck.

Rich said...

From the handful of times I've been to Iowa, I noticed that most of the farm homesteads are unique (to my eye) in the way they have the windbreaks laid out around the farm. Most of the states to the west and the south that I'm familiar with usually don't have this landscaping feature.

I would think that since your area seems to have a history of planting windbreaks, it would be a simple matter to find a few examples of mature plantings that were planted with the proper spacings and species of trees that were able to both survive and thrive over the years.

The best compromise might be planting a windbreak that contained both the reliable long-lived varieties of trees present in the better looking mature windbreaks, and some of the newer fast-growing hybrid tree varieties you are considering. Once the long-lived varieties start to get established, removing the hybrid varieties in stages will provide a source of firewood.

In the mid-90's, there was a local developer that was buying specimen trees from rural landowners and moving them to the areas were he was selling building lots. I'm not sure of the actual cost of moving trees, but if you had an existing tree on your property it could be an option to have it moved closer to your building site for an "instant" shade tree. It is even possible that it might be cheaper in the long run to move a tree for shade instead of buying and operating an air conditioner during the summer.

Mellifera said...

I've heard disparaging things about willows growing over fencelines- apparently they like to drop limbs and bust the fence with relative frequency. Perhaps (as steven mentioned with the poplars) faster-growing trees grow wimpy wood. Heard that willow stinks as firewood too although I'd want to doublecheck me on that.

Doesn't mean willow's necessarily a bad choice, just something to plan for. It seems to be popular for artificial limbs... if anybody's making them out of wood anymore.

Rich said...

"...Heard that willow stinks as firewood too although I'd want to doublecheck me on that..."

We have a boggy area that is covered in native willows. It seemed like they went from being a few feet high to twenty feet high almost overnight. I've never cut any for firewood, but it seems like it is much less dense than other wood.

I've noticed that the area around the trees has an unusual "stink", possibly a combination of the willow leaf litter and the wet conditions (although it isn't always wet). It is enough of a "stink" that I'd want to investigate before planting any willows too close to a house.

Ethan Book said...

Thanks for the input everyone. As I mentioned in the original post we are looking at this as a two stage thing. We will get some of the long term stuff planted (slow growing ... somewhat at least) and also establish some quick growing stuff that could benefit us in just a few years.

We are not looking to create a forest, but rather just a wind break up on top of the hill to cut down on those cold Northwest winds! And nothing buy the fences ... or power lines :)

I will look into the possibilities of getting cuttings from someone ... that is my kind of price!

Ernie said...

Ethan, I realize that this post is about trees, but it got me thinking about the future design of my house. I have 2 friends that built their houses out of ICF's, more or less concrete walls. They both say that they hardly ever run the A/C or heater, and one of them have a young wing break growing. They save a ton of money on utilities. This link gives alot of good info on ICF's.

But this is all probably mute as I now remember you saying that you were looking into a pole barn type house. But I will post it anyway as I think it is good info. :-)


Mellifera said...

Oops, sorry, I mean I heard willow's just not very good firewood. I can't vouch as for the smell. : )

Good luck with the trees Ethan... have you looked into Osage Orange? People used to use it as a hedge and it grew fast enough to keep cows in after 4 years. Then after people stopped trimming them into hedges (after barbed wire) it grew up into normal trees. The wood seems very rot-resistant and good for general use. As long as you don't mind inch-long thorns....

Anonymous said...

I have been "lurking" for some time and your blog keeps bringing me back. The following link might interest you. I realize some of the trees in this list are considered nuisance trees (black locust, honey locust, mulberry), but these trees can double as feed stock for cattle or chickens. I don't know if you have ever watched a chicken under a mulberry tree when the fruit is dropping, but it is one of the funniest sights I have ever seen. A chicken trying to climb a tree!! Hope it helps. http://permaculturetokyo.blogspot.com/2006/05/top-10-fuel-trees-for-zone-5-and-above.html

Ethan Book said...

Thanks for continuing to give input everyone! I realize these quick growing things are not great and hardy, but it was just for a quick fix while our permanent stuff gets going. We will have a mix of each for balance and such.

Ernie, we did look at that sort of thing briefly, but cost is a huge issue for us at the moment ... so pole building quick and less expensive is what it will be... for now ...

Mellifera, I have looked at osage orange ... lots of osage orange. The are pretty common down here and there are already some on the farm ... they make GREAT somewhat twisty fence posts. They are tough to cut though!

Anonymous, thanks for the link. It has some interesting stuff in that post! We do have some of those trees on the farm (in the woods) and now that you mentioned it, I'm going to try and get my chickens to climb trees. That does seem like it would be a sight to see!

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