My Redwood Experiment

 

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Redwood BarkSeveral years ago–I can’t say exactly when, I planted a small tree just off my deck in the back yard. It was situated on the edge of a man-made pond I had constructed a couple years before. The tree was an unusual evergreen with scales which looked similar to fir needles but were more like pointed ovals, or tiny leaves. The cinnamon red bark was unusual as well. It had a fibrous spongy quality that made it seem like matted hair.

Over the years the tree grew and provided a nice shady area over part of the pond. It was a lovely looking specimen with the perfect symmetry of a well groomed Christmas tree. This was my favorite tree on the entire property. At some point, I became aware that I had never seen any other trees that looked quite like the one in my yard. From that point, I decided to see if I could find other trees of the same species. Whenever I would go to a park or on a hike, I would look for trees like mine. I never did find any that were similar.

p1090423Over the last few years, my prize tree began to encroach on the deck area which was about five feet away from the trunk. I lopped off the lower couple rows of limbs. That helped a little, but soon the tree reached a height of 35 feet, which was taller than the two-story p1090424house that it abutted. The limbs also reached into the upper and lower deck areas. Furthermore, the back yard could not be seen from the upper deck, the pond could not be seen from the lower deck, and the house itself was barely visible from the back yard.

I had long forgotten the type of tree it was or where I had purchased it. Just recently, I consulted with two experts and each told me that this was from the redwood/sequoia family. This surprised me in a way because for many years it seemed to be a slow grower More recently however, it’s growth has become more rapid. I live in the western Washington State. I know of a few redwoods in the area, but they are quite different than the one I have.

I had put off dealing with the tree for a long time. I did not want to cut it down, but if I didn’t do something soon, it would be too large for me to handle, and I would have to call on a professional to remove the tree.

Forgive me. At times I seem to prattle on and never get to the point. If you are still reading, you probably have a vague recollection of something about an experiment in the title.

p1090583Well, you were correct. After much consideration, I decided to cut the tree down to a stump, but see if I could encourage it to grow as a bush from the base. There were some branches that had grown out from the trunk just above the ground. In the past, I had trimmed these sucker limbs. Now I was hoping to get them to grow, and after the trunk and branches above were removed, I was hoping the tree would expend all its energy to grow branches at ground level. If I had to do something with the tree, this was a much better alternative to just cutting it down and letting it die.

I cut off the limbs, starting from the bottom–leaving a few rows to shade the pond for the remainder of the summer. I didn’t want to completely shock the goldfish that lived in the pond. As I went up, I left about a foot of each branch to use as a step to climb higher as I cut the rest of the limbs.

After topping the tree and climbing down to take a rest, I decided to change my plan–at least for now. Instead of cutting the tree down to a stump, I coated the top of the trunk and trimmed limb ends with a tar sealant. And now I will see how the tree reacts to the butchering I have given it. To help it out I scratched up the surrounding ground, and applied a slow release fertilizer.

I am hoping that new growth breaks out from the limb stubs and trunk forming new branches which bare scales, creating a more slender tree than the one that existed before.

Although it has been just a short time since I cut the branches off the tree, there appears to be signs of new growth on the remaining uncut branches, the trimmed branches, in places on the trunk and at the base of the tree.

I honestly don’t know how this is going to turn out. If, after a period of time, I don’t see a lot of new growth on the upper parts of the tree, I will go back to my original plan and cut the tree down to just a stump, and cross my fingers that a bush will grow where there once was a tree.

Oddly enough, a couple months ago, I came across a type of plant that has scales identical to my tree, but was a bush, not a tree.

Since I am doing a post on this tree, I better at least do a little research and find out exactly what species it is.

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Here is what I just found out:

I was finally able to identify this tree. Besides a physical description, I was able to find very little detailed information on this cultivar. However, the word “rare’ was used by a couple of sources, which, of course, made me cringe. After all, I did hack off the limbs of a perfectly magnificent (and possibly rare) tree.

When grown as a tree, this hybrid is known as Sequoia sempervins ‘Cantab’, although the scales look very little like those of Sequoia sempervins, also known as coastal redwood. Cantab grows to between 30 to 50 feet tall.

redwoods-collage-2For comparison, I have included a photo of coastal redwood (shown to the left). Costal redwoods grow 150 to 250 feet tall, but some have been known to reach over 350′ in height, with a width at the base of over 12′ to 20′.

Giant sequoias (Sequoiadenron giganteum) are slightly shorter than coastal redwoods but have a more massive girth. They are native to the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Dawn Redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) are similar to coastal redwoods, but are native to China.

When the leaders are removed from Sequoia sempervins ‘Cantab’, the hybrid grows as a bush and is referred to by the name Sequoia sempervins ‘Prostrata’. In this case the plant becomes a slow grower and may reach a little more than 3 feet high and spread to around 12 feet.

 

 

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Giant sequoia – Sequoiadenron giganteum (top photo) Dawn Redwood – Metasequoia glyptostroboides (bottom photo)

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New growth gives me hope that my redwood will survive.

Although I know very little about plant and tree development, I have confidence that whether I leave the tree in its current state, or decide to cut it down to a stump, it will grow new branches, eventually taking on a pleasant shape, and I will be able to enjoy this redwood for many years to come as it grows at the edge of my quiet pond.

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6 Responses to My Redwood Experiment

  1. Renee says:

    Great article Rick, I know it was hard for you to cut that big guy back. What about planting a few from seeds just in case you are forced to cut it down later. Then you would have some seedlings you could plant anywhere in your yard.

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  2. Bruce says:

    Rick, very interesting. it’s not uncommon to see people planting coast redwoods close to homes, under power lines and in rows 5 to 10 feet apart. What they fail to recognize is that these trees can reach towering heights and have trunks that can lift or displace foundations. So, placement is critical. One thing you should know is that coast redwood, unlike most other conifers, readily sprout from severed branches and the trunk. if you lop off a pine branch behind where the foliage ends, it will die. Most redwood forests, following logging, regenerate naturally from stump sprouts. You can cut off every branch to the trunk, and the tree will regenerate all new branches within several years. Vigorous, upright sprouts will also develop if the top is removed. The problem is that there will be several of them rather than a single, mechanically strong leader. In this manner forks often develop that are prone to splitting out in storms and falling. In order to keep the tree from returning to its original height, you will have to prune the vertical shoots every year or two. If indeed the tree is a small growing redwood, you could allow the tree to regain it’s original size, and remove the lower foliage that interferes with the house. Another option is to remove the tree, and allow the sprouts to develop and then manage them by shearing, much like you would do with a hedge. I’ve see redwood hedges. They do, however, take a lot of pruning. My recommendation is to remove the tree, use an appropriate herbicide to prevent regrowth, and then replace with a dwarf ornamental conifer, suitable to your area. Oh, the joys of gardening …

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  3. Finn Holding says:

    Great experiment Rick. I’m looking forward to seeing how your tree evolves over the next few years. I like its name too, in the UK ‘Cantab’ means associated with Cambridge, which is where I live, and a native of Cambridge is a ‘Cantabrigian’.

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