Maple Massacre

Every spring, I fell a forest. Or, more accurately, I uproot it. Trees by the hundreds perish at my hands. Hand, rather. It takes only one, because the trees are only an inch high when their lives end.

Sprouting Maple

My garden is dominated by two large maples (Norway, I suspect). There is also a giant red maple in the corner of my neighbour’s yard, right on our common property line. Maple seeds rain down in the fall, and although I rake up thousands of them along with the leaves, plenty remain to sprout in the spring.

When we moved here the 50 x 120 foot lot had six more trees than it does now. We cut down four of them (three young maples and a cherry) just about immediately, and had another huge cherry removed a year later. Another big maple, hogging a ten foot wide strip between our house and the one next door, was taken out ten years ago, freeing up land now occupied by hostas, lilies, ferns and hellebores.

I suspect that most of these trees were not planted deliberately, but were self-sown and overlooked until removing them became a major project. If not for my wholesale slaughter of innocent maple seedlings every spring, this lot would be a small forest of maple trees competing with one another for light, water and nutrients.

I don’t go on systematic hunts for maple seedlings, but every time I see one, I yank it out. A few always get missed and survive for a year or more, especially in unvisited corners of the garden. Eventually, though, they get big enough that I see them when they leaf out in spring, whereupon they are doomed. The instant I see their fresh, red-tinted green leaves, with the characteristic maple shape, out they come. I admit to a twinge of guilt for ending all these promising young tree lives. As a Canadian, I get an extra jab of guilt because of “The Maple Leaf Forever” and all that. There’s a maple leaf on my country’s flag, and here I am killing all these maples! At least they aren’t species native to this area. If I had a bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) or a vine maple (Acer circinatum), I would have a real dilemma when it came to destroying their seedlings.

The sad truth is that it’s either the maples or the garden. I can’t have both, and the garden suffers enough from the roots and shade of the maples that are already here. I tell myself that most of these seedlings wouldn’t survive anyway, but would be crowded out by the fortunate few. Superfluity seems to be Nature’s way — to sow the earth with multitudes, most of which are doomed to a brief and offspring-less existence. The big maples I live with are winners, and it’s possible that a few of their children will elude me.

I yank out seedlings of other woody plants as well — cotoneasters, spurge laurels, laburnums, hollies and the odd cherry. Garry oaks (Quercus garryana, also known as Oregon white oaks) are the great exception. They are sacred here, actually protected by law. These oaks are near the northern limit of their range, and too many are lost each year due to our habit of messing around with the land, building condos on it and so on. The Garry oak meadow is an endangered ecosystem, and efforts are being made (almost too late, as is typical of such efforts) to preserve and restore these meadows on southern Vancouver Island and the nearby Gulf Islands.

There was a young Garry oak, about a foot tall, on this lot when we moved here in 1992. It was about a foot from the house foundation, obviously not a good spot, so we moved it. Now it’s 20 feet tall and has been producing acorns for a couple of years. Last fall I found two baby oaks near its foot. Needless to say, I didn’t yank them out, and am anxious to see them prosper, never mind what will have to make way for them as they grow.