Prettiest tree in the garden succumbs to winter wind


Up until about a month ago, everything in our garden looked remarkably fine, a miracle after a nasty winter. The perennials were lush after a wet spring. The bulbs were spectacular and spring-flowering perennials like the bleeding hearts were enormous and filled with flowers. Even some of the perennials getting shaded out by growing trees seemed to thrive since many trees were late to leaf out this spring. There was only one dark cloud in sight.

The exception was at the back pond where the weeping Japanese maple refused to develop leaves. The tree had the same vibrant display as always last autumn and its buds had started to swell this spring. But despite repeated hopes that the little tree just needed a little more time, we faced the truth last weekend. After more than 20 years, the prettiest tree in our garden was dead as a doornail.

Although Japanese maples can struggle in many parts of Wisconsin, properly sited they thrive near Lake Michigan. Most are hardy to zone 4 and tolerate our alkaline soil well, but they struggle with winter wind.

We have three Japanese maples, or rather had three. The one in the west yard is ‘Full Moon’ and it’s protected by the old spruces and the neighbor’s garage. And 20 feet from the cut-leafed tree that bit the dust is an old ‘Bloodgood,” one of the first popular red-leafed varieties. It was planted 21 years ago along the east property line where it’s sheltered by the towering spruces to the east and the leggy old lilacs along the driveway.

The little cutleaf maple at the pond depended on some of the same shrubs for protection, but I suspect high wind on a sub-zero night came through a gap in the shrubs from the northwest. Combined that with the delay in the spring warm-up and what looked like a healthy tree in March never woke up.

Every time I looked at the tree I desperately hoped it would leaf out, not only because it was so beautiful but because I realized how difficult it would to be to remove. Saturday it took about every tool in the garage and lots of expletives to get it out of the ground.

The problem was location. The tree was on a tiny peninsula of soil about 2 feet deep and wide. One misstep and it was into the waterfall or pond. There was some limited maneuvering room once the branches were trimmed away and the trunk cut, but not much. But how much root could a 4-foot-tall tree have? A lot, as my husband discovered.

His shovel yielded to the Mattock axe. Brute force was augmented by a 5-foot pry bar, but it couldn’t pry much even with my sturdy derriere anchoring the end. But after hours of grubbing, the lopping shears severed the final root and the stump was free. It was remarkably small to have caused so much work.

By Saturday evening, a new Japanese maple was installed next to the waterfall, although it will be years before its branches cascade over the water. We were inside, gulping down analgesics with dinner. The rest of the weekend yard work consisted of picking rhubarb and inviting friends over for pie — mature gardeners know their limits. All is again right in our garden, until disaster once more comes to call.



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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.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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