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Live oak photograph

Changes in the Garden

Sadly, this year the big water oak in my front garden had reached the point in its life where it needed to be removed. The oak was probably planted at the time the house was built in the 1950s, and it had reached the end of its garden life – about 60 years. (If this had been a forest, of course, it might have lived several decades longer, dropping branches hither and yon, but since it was in my front garden, reaching across both my and my neighbor’s yards, I was obliged to be responsible and remove it before it collapsed naturally). It was a gloomy day when I made the decision, particularly because a family of doves was in the habit of roosting in this tree each night.

In addition to its age, it had been badly pruned over the years, and did not have a single leader (the tallest, central branch) but rather

Water oak photograph

Photo credit: Anne Yasalonis, UF/IFAS Extension Polk County

several competing leaders. Someone had also removed branches, apparently at random, and the result was that there were open cavities leading into the tree, which told me that the strong wood of the interior was likely to be rotted by fungi. Of course, given our weather, a branch might have fallen off during a storm, but I suspect the fell hand of . . . the Lousy Tree Cutting Company, Inc. I’ve seen the work of this company as they massacre trees in the name of pruning. I suspect that’s what happened to my oak.

Rather than make the decision myself, I hired two certified arborists, one who operates a tree cutting company, and one who is a consulting arborist. They agreed; the tree was becoming a liability.

So I reached deep into my pocketbook and hired a crew to remove it. Because I am a softy, I hired a company that provides health insurance to their staff. Coincidentally, I’ve noticed that this particular company is very respectful of my property. And so they proved to be, carefully moving potted plants out of the way, and completely avoiding damaging a tiny seedling maple that I had planted two years ago. (They suggested digging it up and planting it again after the job, but I felt that was too traumatic for such a young tree, so they worked around it).

They offered me half-a-truck of chipped wood, but I’ve learned my lesson about that – that’s a HUGE pile, and takes weeks of unremitting procrastination to distribute all the chips around the yard. Better to buy a yard of mulch now and then, when the weather is cool and one feels energetic.

As I expected, the crew managed to mash most of my under-tree plantings flat, however. For example, a patch of

Twinflower photograph

Photo credit: Anne Yasalonis, UF/IFAS Extension Polk County

twinflower off to one side of the yard got pretty well crushed by truck tires. (To my surprise, as I write this the twinflower is recovering!)

Because the tree was immense, I knew that the deep-shade plants living under it would likely die, so I dug up the ones I wanted to save (the blood lilies, the jewels of Opar, and the yellow shrimp plants, for example). I have a Chinese fan palm, which is a shade lover, and I suspect it will kick the bucket over the next few months, but it was too big to transplant, darn it.




Stay tuned for . . . what to do next!


This blog post was written by Master Gardener Celia Beamish under supervision of the Master Gardener Coordinator and Residential Horticulture Agent Anne Yasalonis.

For more information, contact UF/IFAS Extension Polk County at (863) 519-1041 or visit us online at  The Plant Clinic is open Monday-Friday, 9:00 am-4:00 pm to answer your gardening and landscaping questions. Visit us in person, give us a call, or email us at

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One Comment on “Changes in the Garden

  1. I feel your pain. I have a similar situation with a laurel oak with codominant trucks one of which is over the house. It made it through the last two hurricanes but two arborists agree that it needs to come out before it ends up on my roof. A family owned tree surgeon company will be removing it with great care. I am actually looking forward to doing new landscaping after it’s removed.

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