Question from Fern:
Dear Pat-Love your site. We have a big, 60′ problem…We live in Westlake Village, CA and the previous owner planted a redwood tree on the edge of our small patio, about 18′ from the house. The birds love it, my husband loves the shade and that it doesn’t block our view of the canyon too much, but I don’t like trying to get things to grow around it…the dense lacy roots are everywhere-and it is HUGE. What can we do? I’m not sure if we have the tree removed, if we can plant something in it’s place right away. Any suggestions?
Answer from Pat:
I have read your question twice in order to fully understand it. It seems to me that you are asking me several things. One question is whether you would soon be able to plant a garden after cutting down a very large redwood tree. This would depend on the soil condition. My guess is that you would need to remove all the soil and roots and replace with three feet of top soil before beginning to make a new garden. This in addition to removing the tree would be very expensive and I wonder if you would end up with the garden of your dreams anyway, since few people accomplish this dream. Another point to consider is the climate. During hot summer days you might really miss that tree. Additionally, it does not sound as if your husband and you are quite on the same page with this. He wants to keep the tree and it sounds as if you want it gone in order to have a garden.
I can understand your desire to plant a garden in sun, since I once cut down a bunch of trees in order to plant a large garden that became my TV set. After the trees were gone I found I had plenty of sun and that’s what I wanted. But this was years ago and I was much younger and I was making money on TV. I terraced the land, filling each terrace with top soil which I hauled in by the truckload, and I designed the terraces so that my camera man had a path at the back, that he could walk on with his back to the sun while he taped the show of me planting, harvesting, fertilizing, pruning or whatever else I was demonstrating. Though I designed everything, my gardener built all the rock walls that still hold up the terraces today, thirty years later. I also knew enough about garden design that I knew what I was doing. Among other benefits, the new design actually saved water or used no more than keeping those trees alive had done, since I was able to install various drip systems for watering. Additionally, my husband didn’t mind that I took down the trees. In fact, he agreed with the plan.
Another question you seem to be asking is as follows: Is it wise to remove a 60 foot tree simply because one cannot grow anything beneath it? My answer to that question is no, that is IF the tree is beautiful and healthy. In other words, if there is a beautiful tree and it is beloved by you and your husband, why not grow shade plants in pots? Many people garden in pots with great success, as I once did myself. (If you locate the pots on the ground, be sure to place a stepping stone under each one so that roots don’t invade from below.)
I once knew a garden in La Jolla near where I live which had two enormous redwood trees in the back yard. That was all, but the home owners found a perfect solution. They built a large wooden deck to cover the ground and the roots. On the deck they had arranged a woodsy table with tastefully chosen chairs, chaise lounges and art objects. They also grew plants in pots that again were well chosen for the site and included a collection of bonsai. Every time I walked into that garden I felt as if I was in the mountains and the fragrance was wonderful. I do not generally believe in planting redwood trees in coastal zones of Southern California since they use a lot of water, but in this case the trees were very old, they were causing no problems and they were beautiful. It seemed to me as if the owners had adapted perfectly to the situation and capitalized on it in a logical and responsible way. They both worked and traveled and could leave without worrying about keeping up a demanding garden.
Really what you need to do is to resolve your differences. Also ask yourself if you are you an avid gardener, since once this tree is gone that is what you will need to be or to become. You could of course then create a great garden with raised beds for vegetables, walls, paths, patios, and shade in the form of arbors, pergolas, or other smaller trees. Before cutting down the tree you would need to have a complete plan in mind for what you intend to do thereafter.
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