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Be aware of short-lived tree species

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After the tree reaches a reasonable size, the heavier limbs begin to break during Florida’s frequent storms. The average thunderstorm can produce winds strong enough to easily break limbs.

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Most fast-growing trees are short-lived. It’s almost a built-in factor. The wood is usually soft and easily broken. This is not good news in Florida.

After the tree reaches a reasonable size, the heavier limbs begin to break during Florida’s frequent storms. The average thunderstorm can produce winds strong enough to easily break limbs. And, Florida’s array of pests find easy access into the soft wood of these fast-growing trees, causing rot, decay and early decline/death.

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) is a commonly planted tree in our area. This tree has a fast growth rate and good drought tolerance. It sounds like a great tree if you need fast shade. But I’ve heard it said that this tree grows three feet a year and loses two feet to breakage. Its bad characteristics include brittle wood, poor branch angles, multiple central leaders, messy fruit and a shallow/surface root system. You’d be fortunate if the tree makes it to ten years old, still in good shape in Florida.

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I get a fair amount of questions about growing Weeping Willow (Salix spp.) trees in Northwest Florida. When people ask me about planting willow trees, I ask them how many old, large willow trees have you seen in Okaloosa County? There is a reason why you see few large, old willow trees. They generally don’t survive to a ripe old age here.

Purple-leaf plum (Prunus cerasifera) is planted for its red, maroon foliage but it too is short-lived. You’ll frequently see this tree on its “last leg” at a fairly young age displaying its dying branches throughout North Florida landscapes.

Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana) can begin to “fall apart” at a relatively young age. This tree is fast growing, drought tolerant, blooms well and has good fall color. But its downfall is its tight, upright, weak branch structure, which results in branches splitting and breaking away from the trunk with age on their own accord because of their weight.

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It’s worth doing your homework before planting a tree. I think people should be aware that a tree is likely to be a short-lived species. And, I know someone can show me that “granddaddy” silver maple that’s 50 years old in someone’s yard in our area. But such a tree is the exception. Some people live to 120 but they certainly don’t represent the average life expectancy. Comparing the extreme to the average can be misleading, disappointing and unfair.

For reliable information on trees to plant in Florida, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County or visit one of the below websites:

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_trees

http://lyra.ifas.ufl.edu/FloridaTrees

Larry Williams is the Extension horticulture agent with the Okaloosa County Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida. Contact Larry at 689-5850 or email lwilliams@myokaloosa.com.

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