Gardening: Cut down to size

By Justin Newcombe

Justin Newcombe admits the error of his ways and gets rid of a nuisance tree in his garden.

Chainsaw carved axe. Photo / Hawkes Bay Today
Chainsaw carved axe. Photo / Hawkes Bay Today

I've lived in the same house for the past 15 years. When we first moved in I decided I'd play landscaper. I had a few plants left over from various projects so planted some of them on the northern side of my property, next to the fence, beside the clothesline. No big deal.

When my wife critiqued my efforts, an intense debate ensued about the merits of planting a Mexican sky palm, which grows upwards of 130 feet, on the sunny side of the property, right next to the clothesline.

Of course, I'm the landscape professional right? I do have a superior knowledge of all things plants, right? I insisted the palms stay. After all, as everybody knows, the washingtonia robusta has a very lineal habit with a tall slender trunk and foliage up high, somewhere in the clouds. Rather than let our discussion deteriorate into a debate about logic and reason, which I was sure to lose, I thought I'd romance her a bit.

Just to see if I could bring her round, I told her this was the same sort of thing you'd see in an LA boulevard, often with people performing roller disco nearby, wearing an oversized pair of sunglasses eating an icecream, the sort of place where pop video producers get their extras from...

In the first couple of years things were looking pretty good. Nice taut, well-presented foliage with practically no care. In retrospect, I possibly didn't think things through very well. It has been 12 years, more or less, of not being able to use the clothesline because a) the washing gets caught on the thorns of the fronds and tears, b) the end of the clothesline bumps into the trunk so you can't actually turn it and c) the amount of shade thrown about by the gargantuan canopy is like living under a permanent eclipse.

After years of using the neighbour's clothesline, I can't pretend any more. I admit I was wrong. My adoring wife's response to this admission is unprintable.

Now we are both on the same page it's time to do something about my six-metre plus washingtonia robustas.

The best thing to do is call a tree company and get them down. After seeing some of the accident statistics around chainsaws, ladders and falling objects I am loath to promote a project in this fine paper that combines all three. But here I am doing just that, sort of.

In my case at least a third of the palm is foliage, so I've already begun removing this with a pruning saw on a bamboo pole. This makes the palms look a lot less ominous. Often the fronds get thrown into landfill as they can't be processed at the refuse station for compost.

Environmentally this is a problem as fronds produce a lot of methane as they decompose. So instead, I'm removing the thorny stems of the fronds with a machete and using the foliage to suppress weeds.

The idea is to create a thick mat then cover it with mulch.

The rest of the trunk will be pulled down in small manageable pieces. I've already had a go with an axe and because the trunk is so soft this has proved to be easy going.

What I really want to write is: get a big chainsaw, and chop the palm from the bottom and don't forget to call tiimmmbbbeeerrr! But I can't. It doesn't take much to have an accident, especially in a residential situation. So the best thing you can do is get in the professionals.

- NZ Herald

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