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cutting down shade trees to reduce shade for fruit trees?

 
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I've always wanted a small orchard on my property, and my wife has taken an interest in growing some elderberry bushes.  My experience in trying to grow some potted annuals at various spots around the property has been disappointing - there is simply too much shade.  I have a plot at the community garden for growing annual vegetables, but no access to a sunny site where I can establish perennials.

Most plants tags list "full sun" which means 6+ hours a day throughout the growing season.  Between the shade cast by the two-story house, plus the mature oak and pine trees, there is no spot on my property that fits that criteria.  There are two small areas of trees that were cleared for lawn, but the grass isn't exactly thriving.  

I have identified two potential areas for planting a small-ish (40'x40') fruit and berry orchard.  I had an arborist come out to give me some ideas and a rough cost estimate for removing enough trees to expose those areas.  He counted off 25 trees to be removed in option A area, and 15 trees in option B area.  I don't have a written quote from him, but a rough tally was $5,000 for either one, and that's with me doing a significant part of the cleanup to save some money.  This would require an electric service disconnect, plus some heavy equipment to safely get the trees down away from the house, garage, propane tank, etc.  

My first instinct is that $5,000 is a totally frivolous expenditure of money that could be better spent in so many other ways, or simply saved for retirement, kids' college, etc.  Those would be some very expensive apples that I could buy at the store with the savings!  I would be removing mature shade trees that keep my house cool as our summers get hotter.  

A second thought is that it's not a huge sum of money in the scope of yearly earnings, and the benefits would be reaped for years and decades to come.

A third thought is that there must be some solution that hasn't yet crossed my mind.  Thinning or limbing up the trees...?  Surely there is a solution.  Here we are in the great northeast hardwood forest, surrounded by old apple orchards that have been swallowed up long after the farmers moved west.  I've talked to so many people at our community garden who rent because everything they planted in their shaded yard struggled and died.

I welcome any input you have, as I ponder my present predicament


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This is one of those things that you can talk  yourself into or out of relatively easy. There's a great argument either way. Since you went to the expense of bringing in a consult,  i think your edging towards doing it.

It's no different than fencing for cows, or a pond. It is infrastructure necessary to achieve a persons goals.

 
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I like the idea of Option B, which I think is where you took the bottom photo from.  This allows you to benefit from the sun coming in from the south over the house and the space in front of the house.  If you did Option A you would still have a lot of shade from the south, and you might not be able to clear all those trees (as they’re outside your boundary).  I’d keep the mature oaks and focus more on removing large pines and non-food producing trees.  Small pines are ok on the borders for wind-control and privacy, but be careful about big pines on the east blocking morning light.  

I’m in a similar situation btw, and have a lot of problems getting any grass/groundcover to grow, as the forest soil is extremely compacted, acidic, clay, and low in organic matter.  Probably will need lots of aeration, lime, and perhaps organic fertilizer to get anything started.  If you research coppicing/pollarding you can get some ideas to turn your trees into GIANT BUSHES.  I’ll have to post some pictures sometime, but I’m basically doing that to all my maples and tulip poplars, while leaving the hickories and mature oaks (with a bit of pruning to keep them growing straight and compact).

I’ve removed most of my trees myself, paying about $400/large tree that’s too close to the house or neighbors for me to drop safely.  But I don’t have a need for heavy machinery, and use all the slash and rounds. You might also want to think about leaving some of your trees up while your young apple trees grow.  Then you can fully remove your “old-growth” forest in a few years once your fruit trees need the light.

You can also use your wood for mushroom logs or for swales/terracing (if you have a slope) or raised beds.  Or Hugelkulture.  Research girdling trees, to create wildlife habitat.  Or have some of your trees cut at 10’ and drill them for mushroom plugs and mason bee habitat.
 
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Sadly I can't see the first two photos.

In any situation like this I usually recommend looking for the space or spaces that are shaded by evergreens and then removing the evergreens first, for most fruit trees the evergreens can bring many maladies so they are my first to go favorites.
Many times, once the evergreens are gone it becomes more a pruning back exercise to get the sun light for the fruit trees. (most do fine with only 6 hours of full sun, then partial shade for the rest of the daytime)
As Josh mentioned, quite a few hardwood trees can be reduced in size with proper pruning and topping. Also he mentioned that you don't have to do all the removals at one time, this is very true and usually the best way is to get the main culprits (pines and junipers) gone then plant the orchard trees then come back and reduce or remove the hardwoods one at a time.

Redhawk
 
pollinator
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If you decide against making a clearing, you might consider planting some berries. Blackberries and raspberries like some shade. Other berries too. You might find some small areas with enough light for a bush or two, or you might might gain enough light by just removing a few small trees. Your plantings could be scattered instead of in one big block.
 
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It looks like your first two photos didn't load up correctly?  The third photo looks quite promising to me.  Just drop those two trees and you should have a decent amount of sun in the spot you're standing.  The yard looks big enough for a professional to take them down without a bucket truck.  Unless the power lines come through there (can't see them).  The left tree (pair of trees really) is a bit more challenging depending on the lean.  

I'd get another quote for just those 2 trees from your guy and from someone else.
 
Davis Tyler
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OK, I made another attempt to upload the three photos - let me know if you still can't see them.

There are probably 10 hardwoods for every 1 evergreen, as a rough ratio.  I'm fine with prioritizing removal of the pines first, but they're really not casting that much shade.  Some of them are 80+ foot tall eastern white pines, which drop all their lower branches, so it looks like a Q-tip.
The hardwoods cast shade throughout the growing season - leafout in May at the same time the fruit trees come out of dormancy.  I'm open to the idea of pruning and thinning some oak trees, but that would need to be an ongoing task, as they keep trying to fill the canopy.  The complete removal is most costly upfront, but a one-time expense.

 
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I don't know enough to make a suggestion but the pictures work great.
 
Mike Haasl
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Thanks for trying the photos again!  Is there a problem with the open area to the northeast of the house?

Now that I see the third photo is of option B I think I'd still go for that one.  It looks like the satellite picture was taken in midsummer.  If you look at the shade in the picture, and you remove those two/three trees, it should make for a decent patch of sunlight from the southern part of Option B all the way to the northern edge of Option A.  Maybe we could call it Option C?
 
pollinator
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What about an option "D" , take out the trees along the roadway between your options A and B (possibly leaving the two oaks mentioned in Mike's option C in place?)
You would open up just as much area, but also gain the clearing to the West that is the roadway (for free, and guaranteed to not fill in with new trees)
Your new fruit trees would soon block the street/neighbor view as they fill in.

p.s. Howdy neighbor! (I'm from Chelmsford Mass. originally)
 
Mike Haasl
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Don't forget that a number of berries will produce in partial shade.  I believe elderberries, currants, gooseberries and hazelnuts would be options...
 
Davis Tyler
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Mike Jay wrote:Thanks for trying the photos again!  Is there a problem with the open area to the northeast of the house?

Now that I see the third photo is of option B I think I'd still go for that one.  It looks like the satellite picture was taken in midsummer.  If you look at the shade in the picture, and you remove those two/three trees, it should make for a decent patch of sunlight from the southern part of Option B all the way to the northern edge of Option A.  Maybe we could call it Option C?



Yes, that's the option I'm leaning towards, the more I look at the photo.  Take advantage of the area already cleared for lawn, as much as possible.

The area to the northeast of the house was my first (failed) attempt at gardening here.  You can see my woodchip bed, and coldframe - which is a white storm door panel.  I tried growing potatoes in the woodchip bed one year - the foliage stretched almost 3.5' tall, but didn't set any tubers.  I have tried starting seedlings in the cold frame, and they get leggy and flop over. There is a double-trunk red maple and a monster red oak on the south edge of the lawn on the east of the house.  When they leaf out, there is no spot in the part of the yard that gets more than 2 hours of direct sunlight.
 
Davis Tyler
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Kenneth Elwell wrote:What about an option "D" , take out the trees along the roadway between your options A and B (possibly leaving the two oaks mentioned in Mike's option C in place?)
You would open up just as much area, but also gain the clearing to the West that is the roadway (for free, and guaranteed to not fill in with new trees)
Your new fruit trees would soon block the street/neighbor view as they fill in.

p.s. Howdy neighbor! (I'm from Chelmsford Mass. originally)



howdy neighbor!  love living up here - "too many beautiful hardwood trees" is a good problem to have.  

thanks for the suggestion on Option D.  I'll have to scope it out with my Sun Seeker app.  The road is about 30' wide.  Problem would be the neighbor's trees - he has a thick stand of eastern white pine parallel to the road.  That may put me into shade by early afternoon
 
Davis Tyler
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I'm surprised no one has suggested guerrilla gardening in the cul-de-sac circle yet!
 
pollinator
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Some good advice already provided.

If you are flexible on what fruit to grow, another option would be to take out the evergreens and thin the canopy then grow shade tolerant fruit.

Understory fruit trees that will produce in partial sun include paw paw and persimmon. Both are Hardy.
 
Mike Haasl
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How about guerilla gardening in the cul-de-sac circle?   Looks pretty barren now.  Maybe you could even do out-in-the-open gardening in the circle.  Put a bunch of flowering trees and shrubs that just happen to all be permaculture plants in there.  Heck, it could be a great way to show how permaculture can look pretty if one wants to.  Flowers for the pollinators, etc.
 
Davis Tyler
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J Davis wrote:Some good advice already provided.

If you are flexible on what fruit to grow, another option would be to take out the evergreens and thin the canopy then grow shade tolerant fruit.

Understory fruit trees that will produce in partial sun include paw paw and persimmon. Both are Hardy.



I actually happen to have some paw paw seeds stratifying in my fridge.  Have never grown them, but from reading online they need shade the first few years, then full sunlight to produce fruit once they reach maturity.  I suppose it's a sliding scale, and I'm not trying to maximize fruit production as a commercial grower would, so perhaps some shade a reduced fruit set would be fine for my purposes.
 
Davis Tyler
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Mike Jay wrote:How about guerilla gardening in the cul-de-sac circle?   Looks pretty barren now.  Maybe you could even do out-in-the-open gardening in the circle.  Put a bunch of flowering trees and shrubs that just happen to all be permaculture plants in there.  Heck, it could be a great way to show how permaculture can look pretty if one wants to.  Flowers for the pollinators, etc.



I think about it each time I'm out there watching my kids ride bikes.  Someone planted an ailanthus tree of heaven years ago, plus some forsythias and 4 junipers that have sprawled everywhere.  Not a single useful plant among the bunch

The sun exposure is appealing.  The downside of that is that there is no water available; it drains at about a 10-degree slope to the north.  I would have to carry water out there to establish new planting, then hope I could retain enough moisture with mulch.

The other limitation is the soil, or lack thereof.  That is where to Town plow pushes the snow pile, full of sand and salt that finally melts around June 1 each year.  So it's pretty thin sandy soil.  I'm sure 6" of ramial wood chips would help...but I haven't run a soil test to know how much the salt and road runoff has accumulated over the years
 
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I skimmed this thread,  after I saw the price tag.
How much vacant land, how close to the house, could $5000.00 buy?
Got a mortgage?
How much would $5000.00 to the principle lower your monthly bill?

I'm poor, so that seems like a lot of money.
I can't see spending that much on destroying trees to grow others,no matter how useful the new trees might be.
 
Davis Tyler
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William Bronson wrote:I skimmed this thread,  after I saw the price tag.
How much vacant land, how close to the house, could $5000.00 buy?
Got a mortgage?
How much would $5000.00 to the principle lower your monthly bill?

I'm poor, so that seems like a lot of money.
I can't see spending that much on destroying trees to grow others,no matter how useful the new trees might be.



you're not wrong; it IS a lot of money.  Which is why I'm soliciting opinions before I proceed.  Or call off the whole idea.

I looked at buying a lot to build a house 4 years ago  - a raw buildable 2-3 acre lot was selling for $150,000.  $5,000 won't even buy you a parking space around here.  

Yes, I have a mortgage.  I'm of two minds about it - $5,000 wouldn't even put a dent into it - although I have ~30% equity, there is still a couple hundred grand outstanding.  But applying $5000 to the mortgage would surely make it go away faster.  In the same way that a steady rainfall makes a granite rock erode a little faster!
 
William Bronson
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Ah,  I get it.
I have spent $500.00 on tools for making money.
If I had spent it on my mortgage,it would have helped, a little,  but not not in a satisfying way.

I wonder if there is anything you could buy for a like amount that would let you do it yourself .
I don't know anything about the cost of heavy equipment, but that's the calculation I usually make.
For example, I can buy a lot for less than what a PDC costs,  so that's what I did .

I'm probably thinking too small,  but trimming the trees, growing understory plants and if far enough away from the infrastructure ,  girdling , are the things I  would pursue.
 
Davis Tyler
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William Bronson wrote:Ah,  I get it.
I have spent $500.00 on tools for making money.
If I had spent it on my mortgage,it would have helped, a little,  but not not in a satisfying way.

I wonder if there is anything you could buy for a like amount that would let you do it yourself .
I don't know anything about the cost of heavy equipment, but that's the calculation I usually make.
For example, I can buy a lot for less than what a PDC costs,  so that's what I did .

I'm probably thinking too small,  but trimming the trees, growing understory plants and if far enough away from the infrastructure ,  girdling , are the things I  would pursue.



I'm pretty comfortable with a chainsaw once the tree is on the ground, but I've dropped enough trees in the woods to know that I'm out of my league this close to the house.  The tree guy estimated 4,000 lbs for most of them, and he plans on pulling on the hinge cut with his F350 to ensure they drop in a safe zone.
 
J Davis
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Its amazing what a climber can do with a piece of string and two guys on the ground. Think triangle with the apex high up on the tree.
 
Mike Haasl
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Hmm, "pulling on it with his F350"...  Is he a licensed and insured professional?  The guys around here that charge $500 per tree have a winch system on a big truck to pull with.  I think I'd get a second quote.  Maybe I'm overly nervous though...
 
Davis Tyler
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Mike Jay wrote:Hmm, "pulling on it with his F350"...  Is he a licensed and insured professional?  The guys around here that charge $500 per tree have a winch system on a big truck to pull with.  I think I'd get a second quote.  Maybe I'm overly nervous though...



I'll get a second quote, but he's legitimate.  I found him after he did $12,000 worth of work on a neighbor's lot, and it ended up looking really good.  You're right he did mention the winch.
 
Mike Haasl
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Ok, good.  My nervous antennae were just perking up on your behalf.  
 
Davis Tyler
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Mike Jay wrote:Ok, good.  My nervous antennae were just perking up on your behalf.  



He flagged a couple trees in the backyard that would justify getting a crane to remove, if we chose to do so.  Said those cost $3,000 just to bring the equipment onsite for the day, and they take down as many trees as they can in a day.

I like that he's a one-man operation, and I'm not paying for a fancy truck or TV commercials like the guys with the cranes.
 
Josh Garbo
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My property is about the same size and similarly wooded.  I was able to remove most of the non-desirable hardwoods with a wedge, sledge, and chainsaw.  Then I used the slash to make brush piles and the logs for terracing/firewood.  I'd recommend removing the trees away from the house yourself; I can't see your top two pictures at the moment, but I think you only have a few trees near your house?
 
Davis Tyler
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Josh Garbo wrote:My property is about the same size and similarly wooded.  I was able to remove most of the non-desirable hardwoods with a wedge, sledge, and chainsaw.  Then I used the slash to make brush piles and the logs for terracing/firewood.  I'd recommend removing the trees away from the house yourself; I can't see your top two pictures at the moment, but I think you only have a few trees near your house?



ugh - are the pictures missing again for everyone?  

As far as trees near my house - my definition of "near" is anything closer than the height of the tree - meaning if I felled it the wrong direction - catastrophe.  There are at least a dozen trees that fit that criteria - 60-70ft red oak trees, plus some large pines.

If I end up having trees removed - what are your thoughts on dealing with the stumps?  
1. leave them to rot (will take a decade+)
2. pull them with an excavator and backfill with loam
3. grind them below grade and let the roots rot
 
Mike Haasl
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Yeah, for some reason the first two pictures dropped off again.  Are you attaching them with the attachments tab at the bottom?  Usually that's pretty reliable.

I'd leave the stumps and work around them.  Planting bushes around each one would cover it up in 2 years.  Or mound dirt on them and make little hugelkulture beds.  Removing them is rather invasive to the site.  Grinding them would make a bunch of wood chips that you could try to use elsewhere but I'd still go for option #1.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Now that I have seen all the photos I have to second Mike Jay's assessment. Good tree folks around where I live tend to top the tall trees first then take them down to the ground.
If you can leave some tallish stumps you could inoculate with mushroom plugs so you would have mushroom crops for several years before the stumps would begin to go away.

Redhawk
 
Mike Haasl
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Woo hoo, more photos!  For folks reading this thread, the picture order changed in the first post.

Hi Davis, it's hard to tell from the photos exactly, but I think this is what I'd do.  Pluck out the trees with red X's and put the trees/bushes in the blue circle.  You could likely extend the blue around the trees to the north depending on how much shade they cast on their own feet.

There might be more trees below and to the right of the camera in attached photo, in which case the blue circle may not come as close to the camera as I drew it...
Food-forest.jpg
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Davis Tyler
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:Now that I have seen all the photos I have to second Mike Jay's assessment. Good tree folks around where I live tend to top the tall trees first then take them down to the ground.
If you can leave some tallish stumps you could inoculate with mushroom plugs so you would have mushroom crops for several years before the stumps would begin to go away.

Redhawk



I asked the good folks at Field and Forest supply in Wisconsin about this very idea, and they tell me their efforts have had mixed success when inoculating fresh stumps.  The chicken of the woods failed to colonize, while the oysters had partial success.  There is a wide range of wild mushrooms species living in that mulched bed already, so I'm not confident that an introduced fungi would out-compete the natives.
 
Davis Tyler
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Mike Jay wrote:Woo hoo, more photos!  For folks reading this thread, the picture order changed in the first post.

Hi Davis, it's hard to tell from the photos exactly, but I think this is what I'd do.  Pluck out the trees with red X's and put the trees/bushes in the blue circle.  You could likely extend the blue around the trees to the north depending on how much shade they cast on their own feet.

There might be more trees below and to the right of the camera in attached photo, in which case the blue circle may not come as close to the camera as I drew it...



yes the blue circle is essentially the entire front lawn area, as it currently stands.  I will have to shift it in on the right edge because the trees in Option A area cast shade in that area.  If I clear Option B area, I can plant from the driveway to 2/3 into the lawn area.  The kids can find somewhere else to practice soccer!
 
Josh Garbo
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I believe stumps need to be dead (no shoots growing) for mushroom inoculation to work.  This seems to take at least a year after tree removal, cutting off the new shoots that try to grow.  I've also drilled into tall stumps to try to create mason bee habitat.  The tree service left 20 feet of one tree intact, girdled, to rot for the woodpeckers.  Per Dr. Redhawk, you can also just drill holes into a stump for natural inoculation.

Your pollarded trees could be used for living bird-house posts, hammock support, and/or vine trellising.  Or slack-line. :)
 
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