Weeping Willow

October, 1996

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Anyone who has seen Disney's Pocahontas may want to tread lightly this month. The demise of a willow tree might prove a bit painful to those who are fond of anthropomorphizing. But I have learned that sometimes, the only way to prevent further problems is to sacrifice a large tree.

Winnowing the Weeping Willow
Every gardener makes mistakes in plant placement and the previous owner of my new home was no exception. In fact, I had noticed this particular flaw since I first time viewed the house, nearly a year ago. A weeping willow, probably Salix babylonica was planted in a small bed (24" wide) between the foundation of the house and the edge of the concrete driveway. The invasive habits of willows are well known and the placement of this tree, which can grow to between 30'-40' with a 30' spread, was particularly bad since there are sewer and water lines that run nearby.

Finally, I was able to find an open weekend and a close friend to help me with the job of tackling this problem. Lured by the offer of a free dinner and the machismo-enhancing chance to wield a chain saw, my friend Ric helped me top the leafy limbs from the tree and then begin taking larger limbs off from the top down. A neighbor had lent us a chain saw but a dull chain slowed us down for the first half of the project. Once that was repaired we finished the remainder of the job in under and hour. The larger logs were added to our wood pile for the fireplace, both of our garden bins were full and we still had a 4' high pile of limbs in the driveway. These would eventually be loaded into our pickup and trucked to the LA City Yard Trimmings Drop Off Site. More about this later.

We still had to deal with the 12" stump that remained. The previous owners had left some stump decomposer that is based on sulfur. We drilled large holes in the stump, packed them with the powder and watered lightly. This is supposed to help decompose the stump in a few months and then we should be able to dig out the remaining pieces.

Willows are notorious for their rooting abilities. Even a branch left on moist soil will root wherever it touches the dirt. In fact, some gardeners will soak willow branches in water and use it as a rooting compound in place of Rootone or other rooting hormones. Even now, several weeks after cutting, the stump is issuing up many suckers and even the logs in the wood pile are sprouting. Eventually the energy stored in the roots will be exhausted and the stump will die, but I will have to keep cutting until that occurs.

LA City Yard Trimmings Drop Off Site

One of our recent discoveries, now that we are heavily into gardening, is the LA City Yard Trimmings Drop Off Site. You should investigate in your area to see if there is something similar. Residents of Los Angeles can drop off up to 6 cubic yards of garden waste each trip with a maximum of 4 trips per month. We have made use of this service several times as we continue to catch up with the maintenance in our garden. An added benefit is that city garden waste is composted on-site and available for sale at the same location. For a minimum of $10, you can receive up to a ton of compost, dumped into your pickup or other truck from a front end loader. It may not be elegant, but the compost is good, with no large pieces or any non-organic waste, and you can?t beat the price. Our little pickup holds about 1,000 pounds and we have picked up two complete loads so far. Since we really don?t have the space for our own compost pile, this is the best solution for us. The Drop Off Site is located in Sun Valley at 11291 Randall Street near the corner of Tuxford and De Garmo. You can call 1-800-773-CITY for further information and hours. You must show proof of residency when dropping off waste. Your latest DWP bill and a picture ID is sufficient.

Going Native

So you might ask what we have done with over a ton of compost in our gardens. The first load was used to top dress all of our front rose and flower beds and a few wheelbarrows full were added to our future California native plant garden in the rear. The second load was dedicated entirely to this same area.

Our future native garden was a small patch of grass, the only lawn on the property, and it had suffered greatly in the heat. Most of it was dead and I am not particularly fond of grass in Los Angeles anyway. We composted the entire area and then rented a medium duty rototiller, to turn the whole area under and cultivate it to a depth of 10"-12". We then covered the area with plastic to prevent weed growth and hopefully solarize the soil to kill remaining weed seeds.

Mid-October brings the California Native Plant Society?s Plant Sale. You can find further information on the society and the sale on their web page at We have some basic ideas for our plantings for this area but it will depend on what plants we can pick up at the sale. It will probably contain a few larger shrubs, such as manzanita and ceonothus with a larger area of native wildflowers randomly distributed. My wife, Rosanne, wants a small swing placed in the middle of the bed so that plantings will have to take that into account as well.

Next time I will tell the story of our on-going battle with an aged sprinkler system, bird feeders and the pruning of numerous trees that have been ignored for two years or more.

Douglas E. Welch

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant based in Van Nuys, California.
He can be reached at or via his web pages at

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