Uncooperative trees have made a pariah out of gardener


In a neighborhood where most of the yards are pristine and the leaves have all been gathered and taken away, we are the exception. Our garden beds are filled with debris because I believe that’s the best way to protect the perennials over the winter. But the leaves drifting across our lawn are entirely the fault of the trees, which refuse to drop their leaves in an orderly manner. My only fault was planting most of them.

When we planned our garden we had to replace some trees. We had a couple of lightning strikes and others had just reached their expiration date. I thought we’d made prudent selections replacing them with several natives and popular ornamentals that provided food for wildlife as well as beauty for us. But one thing I never, ever considered was when these trees dropped their leaves. That’s a mistake I regret every autumn ­— and so do my neighbors.

A fast glance out the window shows the problem. Almost a dozen witchazels still have most of their leaves, even the ones that are sporting weird little yellow flowers. Next to them, the mid-section of the native red oak is still cloaked in leaves. The nannyberries —native viburnums — are still holding on to their dead foliage for dear life, and so are the dozen ninebarks in the back yard.

I can’t take the blame for the old Van Houtte spireas that are still holding their leaves. They’ve been here since the house was built in the 1920s.

The worst offenders by far are the Bradford pears that grow along the east property line. After the rain Saturday, the driveway and the east lawn were covered with pear leaves, enough to fill our garden cart twice. Do the trees now look bare? Heck, no. Looking at them it’s hard to tell they’ve dropped a leaf. The leaves stubbornly persist until the new buds finally shove them off in April.

To neater homeowners it may not look as if we’ve touched a rake this year. But several 6-foot diameter, 6-foot tall compost bins filled with shredded leaves are proof that we really, really tried to clean up. We rake and rake but the trees refuse to cooperate.

For those planning to install new trees soon, I’d advise spending a lot more time than I did finding out when the candidates discard their leaves. For gardeners like me who do most of their cleanup in the spring, clingers like the Bradford pears might not be a problem. But if you like everything tidy, avoid them like the plague.

Instead, pick a dwarf gingko like ours. It isn’t the first to shed its leaves, but when it does they all fall at once. Our Japanese maples behave the same way — they color and promptly discard the old leaves. Japanese gardeners sometimes pull the old leaves right off the branches, and I confess I do the same sometimes to keep tdebris out of the pond.

Everybody complained when the trees refused to drop their leaves last year and the experts blamed it on climate change. But I’m telling you we’ve been hoaxed into planting uncooperative trees that will make you into a neighborhood pariah like me. And don’t fall for the myth that evergreens mean no cleanup. I have a lot of cones to prove that’s a myth started by hungry squirrels.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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