When cheap trees aren’t

“What are the cheapest, biggest, fastest trees I can get?”  This is my brother on the phone.  He lives on a rambling half-acre in the Lavista Hills area in the same house where we grew up.  He is likely still mourning the trees his new neighbors cut down last year. They practically clearcut their lot, seeing as how they were in unincorporated DeKalb County.  He knew those trees personally.

Still, I am caught flat-footed, as I always am when someone asks that.  “I don’t know: what kind of dog should I get?” is what I want to reply.  The question is impossible to answer without more information.

And then there’s the matter of cheap, fast, and big.  As they say, “Sometimes the cheapest can be the most costly.”

There’s a reason trees and shrubs are cheap: they grow big fast. They quickly fill their space and keep on going.  They may grow bigger than you ever imagined (Leyland Cypress), re-seed and become invasive (Privet), develop diseases (Leyland Cypress, Red-Tip Photinia), drop limbs or split (Bradford Pear)  And then you have to pay to remove and replace them.

The Asian Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima) has been planted as a shade and wildlife tree because it is a fast-growing, wide spreading oak that sets abundant acorns when it is much younger than our eastern U.S. oaks. Now the National Park Service has placed it on alert as an invasive–it does indeed seed indiscriminately, and it turns out that the acorns are not as nutritious for our wildlife as those of our oaks.  Fast food, indeed!

So I will have a nice visit with my brother and find out why he wants his trees now (I bet it’s because the remaining trees just dropped their leaves.)  And I will take a look at where he wants to plant them, and what the space, light, drainage, and other conditions are like.  I will suggest quality native trees and large shrubs–maybe beech, white oak, witchhazel or hophornbeam. An open-grown loblolly pine is a beautiful sight, too.

And for cheapness, I will suggest patience and younger trees. It is not his fault his neighbors preferred turf to the trees that had been there since before he was born. Younger, smaller trees will grow better than older, bigger, more expensive ones, and in about 5 years, they will have caught up.  That’s no time at all, to a tree.