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Using trees to cut down on light pollution

 
gardener
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Location: Southern Illinois
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Hello everyone, I would love input here.

I have a neighbor to one side of my very oddly shaped property (this becomes relevant) who has an outside farm-type light on a utility pole.  This lights up his yard—which is fine, that’s his yard—but it constantly lights up parts of my property as well and I truly like having the darkness of night.  I walk my dog very early in the morning and that light is blinding.  Recently it got replaced from an orang, sodium vapor light to a starkly brilliant LED light that casts a virtual artificial sunlight during the night.  Light pollution is one of my pet peeve’s and I would like to combat this.

My thought was to plant a fast growing row of trees to serve as a tall hedge.  I would want to keep it looking relatively natural and of course I would want it cheap.  This brings the obvious question of what tree to plant.  Thoughts include:

Poplar—very fast but short lived and fragile

Hybrid Poplar-cottonwood—similar to above (No cotton!) but has a more natural tree shape

Black locust—fast, tree-shaped.  Thorns?

Something else I am missing?

I live in Southern Illinois, zone 6b.  We get about 40 inches of rain/yr (but not this year!) and have heavy clay soil.  The above-mentioned trees grow very well here as do oaks and hickories but they are terribly slow.

I was hoping to get little seedlings for cheap and plant a whole row of them.  We also have intense deer pressure so I would need to protect them from deer for the first couple of years, which I probably could do with tomato cages or little chicken wire cages.

I would love any and all thoughts!

Eric
 
pollinator
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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None of those sound ideal to me. They are all deciduous, so in winter - when you have the long dark evenings - will provide minimal screening.

Dense, robust hedging plants that spring to mind are holly and yew. Both would be very resistant to deer browsing, form very dense hedging, and will do an excellent job of screening year round. Yew has the disadvantage of being pretty slow growing and you can expect a decade or more before it provides a sufficiently tall and dense screen to block light.

Alternatively, you could go for a thick shelter-belt approach. Instead of a line of hedging, consider a block of densely planted trees and shrubs around 5 to 10m wide. They will do a good job of screening year round, despite leaf drop, and present a more natural barrier than a hedge. You can also plant with mixed species and include some edible fruit trees in the edges.
 
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Location: Medford, Oregon 8a, 21” precipitation. Clay soil.
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Agreeing with Michael that a) a deciduous-only line of trees will only have the effect you want for part of the year and b) diverse species is always a good idea. Include some coniferous trees in the mix! Arborvitae varieties are inexpensive and grow quickly, and like any other cedar have multiple functions. They’re broadly used as a privacy hedge for good reason.

Another option is photinia x fraseri. We have a 10-foot hedge of it around our front yard. Evergreen, with gorgeous red on new growth. Native bees love the flowers and it’s a fantastic shelter for small birds. Inexpensive, fairly quick-growing, and easy to propagate cuttings.
 
Eric Hanson
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Good observations.

I considered white pines or similar.  This line of trees would be about 90 degrees to another, much, much larger row of pines located on the neighbor’s property.  I suppose I could intermix black locust with white pines to get a combination of fast growing and year-round protection.

Something worth noting:  given the undulating nature of the terrain, the trees would have to be about 30’ tall or so to block light from the top of a utility pole.  This was one reason I was considering going with something like black locust as I understand that it will get to about 30’ tall quickly.  I am not certain how fast the other species will reach 30’, though I know that arbor vitae gets tall fast.

Eric
 
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As a fellow amateur astronomer, light pollution is a major headache for me.  I have a light dome in one direction from a small community and in another direction from a coal mine.  I would use a mix of trees. Certainly some fast growing…but other choices as well.  The problem is that while the glare may be addressed, the  light dome will probably remain.   Clear Skies.
 
Eric Hanson
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John,

I too appreciate my telescope, though a limited one it is (an old Astroscan, actually not a bad starter telescope!).  And yes, it would certainly be nice to get rid of the light dome, though I have a much larger one from the nearby town.

I can’t really do much about the light dome, but I really want to do something about the light glare on my early morning walks.

I think you have a good idea about using a mix of fast growers and conifers to block out the direct light.  As it is, that section is basically unused—I deliberately keep it that way to keep it as untouched and natural as possible.  I suppose a row of trees fits in nicely with that aesthetic.

Eric
 
John F Dean
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Hi Eric,

Before you plant, you might want to take a closer look at some full sized fruit and nut trees.  Having a few as part of the mix might provide an added benefit.  
 
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Location: 5,000' 35.24N zone 7b Albuquerque, NM
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This is a problem for many people and I am sorry to hear about the light pollution spilling into your yard. Have you ever checked in with the neighbor to discuss the issue? Here is why I ask.
The house here came with a porch fixture and indoor switch that required a lightbulb. So like anyone with no clue in a first house, I put in the lightbulb and turned on the light whenever I felt like it. I had no idea that it bugged my neighbor! One day, the 4-year-old came over as she often did for a snack and a chat. We had some laughs then, out of no-where, she pointed to the fixture and said after a pause, “My daddy hates that light.” The kid went home as usual as happy as ever.
I was really horrified that I caused my neighbor so much stress. I immediately went to the hardware store and bought a light socket plug adapter to screw into the fixture. Then I plugged in a barely visible string of tiny holiday lights. The neighbors and I never talked about the light but a week later, I noticed that they replaced their bulb with tiny holiday lights.
Sometimes, people want to keep the peace with neighbors and have no clue that there’s a problem. Those light socket adapters are about $3.
 
Eric Hanson
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Nice story Amy,

In my case the neighbor in question is using the light as a security light as the road he is on is busy (Strangely, even though we are neighbors, I am not on that road and my road is very quiet).  His light is no ordinary bulb, but an LED replacement for an old sodium vapor light.

That old light was not too bad as it was an Orange-red light.  The new LED is a stark white light that glares into the distance.

It is bad enough that for a while I was actually considering growing fast-growing tall bamboo!!  I really should not grow that around here as it gets out of control all too easily, but it would provide that screen I am looking for.

Poplar came to mind as it would at least grow quickly.  I have not grown Black Locust, but I hear that it grows as fast as poplar, maybe even a bit faster.

I like the idea of an understory bush, or maybe a second, staggered row of pines or other evergreen.

Actually there are a lot of good ideas here so thanks!  I will keep thinking about my options.

Eric
 
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I could totally see a system with fast growing trees interspersed or parallel with slower growing trees and a shrub layer. As the slower trees get tall enough, you could cut the pioneer trees for firewood.

A lot depends on how natural you want the stand - if you want something "formal", you'd be looking at a very different plan than if you want it to look a little wild and natural. There's lots of information about British Hedgerows and the wonderful ways they act as wildlife corridors, housing and forage for birds. I cold easily picture a mix of deciduous, coniferous, and shrubs. You mentioned 30 ft. Plenty of standard fruit and nut trees grow that tall. Mark Shepard (Restoration Agriculture) planted a variety of trees with different purposes, one of which was firewood. He overplanted for quick coverage, and then thinned as needed.
 
Eric Hanson
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Jay,

I like the idea of over planting with the intention to thin.  This gives a lot of small wood as the plot grows to maturity.

As for my potential hedge, the aesthetic would definitely be wild.  A formal hedge would look terribly out of place as the new hedge would adjoin an existing very, very wild hedge that I actually need to thin from time to time, both to prevent it from overspreading, and as an abundant source of woodchips!

Eric
 
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