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Cottonwood Poplar Roots ....

 
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Anyone know anything about Cottonwood Poplars (Populus deltoides var. monilifera )? How far their root system spreads? What effect it will have on that area? how significant is the competition for nutrients and water will they have? Is suckering a problem?

I'm asking as I am looking to buy a 7.5 acre property .. along a 1000 foot border the neighbour has planted 70 cottonwood poplars. The property is on average 240 feet wide. so if their roots travel 100 feet then that's 45% of the property. If it is a problem then I won't buy it.

I intend to use the land to cultivate a 4 acre perennial food forest and a couple of acres of hemp crop.

Thanks

Mike
 
steward
Posts: 7926
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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I am not familiar with their root systems, but mature specimens can get nearly 100 feet in diameter. Tree roots typically extend beyond the drip line.

These trees are common along rivers, which tells me that they are thirsty bastards. If you are in an arid region, the cottonwoods may begin stealing much of your surface water.
 
pollinator
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Location: Saskatchewan
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Poplars have an unusual root system, a stand of naturally growing poplars is usually all shoots of one plant. they can send up new trees. I would say that these will eventually be capable of sending up new trees all across your property and into the neighbors on the other side. If they are growing close to buildings they can heave and crack cement foundations. That's the bad news for you. the good news is; the leaves and branch tips are food for herbivores, the trees can also soak up and neutralize contaminants. They can improve soil fertility too, so they are good in the right place.
 
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Location: Mid-Michigan
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We have lots of them around here.

I haven't noticed any kind of pattern where their roots cause trouble. Other trees and shrubs grow right up next to them.

They're flimsy- when there's a moderate windstorm, the cottonwoods are the first ones to lose some branches.

The wood is light and fragile. I've cut and split some for firewood, and it's not as useless as I expected, but I only did it because the neighbor dragged the trunks over into my yard. I certainly wouldn't have put any work into going elsewhere and acquiring it.

I've read that the buds make a useful healing salve. I made a batch last year, but haven't tested it against, say, calendula.


Overall, I wouldn't be afraid of them.
 
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Populous deltoids does not sucker nearly as much as other poplars. They do drink a lot of water. I have never seen them have any kind of negative effect on surrounding vegetation. They will coppice as good as anything. 10 feet of re-growth in a year can be expected. The buds and catkins are great for wildlife. I consider cottonwoods to be an excellent plant for a border, especially along a roadside ditch.
 
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It might be a "richard" move but if the roots turned out to be a problem, you could always rent a big DitchWitch and run a four-foot-deep trench down the inside of your fence line, leaving your neighbor's trees to fend for themselves with the remaining root systems on his side of the line. I wouldn't want to do that, but it would always be an option.
 
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One thing poplars and willows are notorious for is invading pipes and septic tanks, if they find the slightest drip. Here, we had a pipe that must have had a tiny drip leak, and balsam poplar roots from nearby (only 10 or 20 feet away) invaded the pipe and blocked it. When we finally figured out why it was blocked and pulled out the roots, they were like a 6-foot-long artsy dread-lock snake made of skinny tangled roots. But cottonwoods are pretty different from other poplars, and I've never had cottonwoods.
 
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