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Messy Trees

Posted: October 7, 2014

Who doesn't like trees in the yard? Not only do they add beauty to a home landscape but they benefit us in many ways.
Crabapple trees provide beauty in the spring but a mess in the fall once the fruit drops.

Crabapple trees provide beauty in the spring but a mess in the fall once the fruit drops.

During the summer months, a tree can throw shade and reduce air conditioning costs. A stand of mixed deciduous and evergreen trees can create a windbreak that during winter months reduces heating costs. They also provide habitat and food for wildlife and stabilize the soil around us.

There are some downsides to trees. One of the more common complaints is the time needed to rake leaves instead of watching the football action from the comfort of a living room. Another issue is the seeds, fruits, and nuts of certain trees that litter the area.

A favorite tree in today’s landscape is the flowering crabapple. Most people grow this for the intense bloom that occurs usually in April/May. Flowers range from whites to pinks to reds and will hold for 2-3 weeks.

As a boy, I never much cared for these flowers, but it was the fruit that caught my attention. My childhood was a houseful of siblings (5) where we were allowed to watch two TV shows a week. This time period occurred before the internet/computer age. So with limited TV time and no electronics, we were always looking for ways to entertain ourselves.

As fall approached, crabapples would start to drop and litter the yards. To us neighborhood kids, this was days of entertainment. At times, sides were picked and crabapples would fly while in other instances, it was just a free-for-all and anarchy ruled the day. Never would the day end because there weren’t enough crabapples or a throwing arm got sore, but rather a well placed crabapple in a sensitive area caused tears to flow. End of game!

My parents loved trees and planted a wide variety of them all over the yard. At times, their landscape design decisions baffled the mind. In the area where we played wiffleball, they decided to plant a Chinese chestnut tree. It was all well and good until 1) the tree started to produce nuts and 2) we got older and could hit the ball into ‘Chinese chestnut territory’.

The nuts themselves were not a problem but it was the structure that housed the nuts that was truly a wiffleball nightmare. The nuts are contained in a structure called a bur. Imagine picking up a tennis ball that is covered with pins, pointy side out. Hitting the ball under the chestnut tree allowed the batter to stretch a single into a double as the outfielder had to tiptoe through the prickly burs to get to the ball.

The kousa dogwood has become a very popular tree over the past decade. It is truly a four season interest plant in that it flowers in the spring, above the nice shiny, dark green leaves (while the flowers stay on for several weeks the glossy foliage remains until fall). The leaves turn to an attractive orangish-red and will eventually fall to showcase the pretty bark characteristics.

The flowers give way to a fruit, that as it matures, turns to a beautiful red orb. It stays beautiful until it drops and starts to litter the ground underneath. It can be rather messy as the fruit drops and starts to decay. This may be a tree to avoid planting near the sidewalk or porch.

chestnuts
Chestnuts are hidden in the prickly burs. Once they fall to the ground, they can create some havoc with playtime activities.

Open chestnut bur
Chestnuts are protected by the bur (as in right bur), once they fall to the ground, crushed burs also create havoc with playtime activities.

Fruiting kousa dogwood
Fruiting kousa dogwood can add some fall interest to the landscape.

kousa dogwood fruit
Once kousa dogwood fruit falls to the ground, it can create a mess as it is walked upon and/or rots.

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Messy Trees

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Contact Information

Tom Butzler
  • Extension Educator
Phone: 570-726-0022