Saturday, October 20, 2007

Cottonwoods are lousy residential trees

Another dead Plains Cottonwood comes down in the neighborhood, this being the fifth one this year in the vicinity. There are many reasons they are probably planted in residential areas on the Colorado Front Range:
  • They grow fast. In our semi-arid climate with a short growing season, they seem like a reasonable choice for those wanting trees quickly.
  • They are great shade trees when mature, providing relief from our hot summers and perhaps lowering some utility bills.
  • They are native to the area. The pioneers reported that these were the only trees they usually saw on the high plains, always growing next to creeks and rivers. It was a common ritual for homesteaders to periodically gather Cottonwood seedlings from nearby creeks and plant them near their houses, for shade, beauty, and to serve as windbreaks.
Ultimately, however, they are a time bomb for homeowners, waiting to go off in twenty to thirty years, fifty if you're lucky. They are deceptively weak trees when alive and worse, of course, when they're dying. As tall and wide as they grow, you're looking at a $2000-$3000 bill to get rid of a mature one by a tree company. Leaving a dead cottonwood standing is not usually an option because of the risk to people and property in the area, when it falls down. On a sample tree life span of 25 years in residential yards (they live a lot longer in their native settings) and a $2500 removal fee, ask yourself if it's worth $100 a year for your Cottonwood(s). Moreover, if you're buying a house with Cottonwoods already in the yard, especially mature ones, factor in the cost of removing them down the road as part of your home ownership costs, perhaps using this cost in your negotiations.

A mature Cottonwood, still doing well:

This is not an anti-Cottonwood rant. They are beautiful trees and are an important part of the West. They probably fit in better in their native habitat, along streams and creeks.

Another one in the distance. severely on the downslide:

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