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Another large tree comes down in Greenbelt

posted in: Home and Garden


When a diseased tree was removed from my next-door neighbor’s back yard recently I couldn’t stop watching. It took four men almost two full days and a lot of skill to do the job. Huge pieces of trunk dangled back and forth in the air and had to be guided to exactly the right spot before they were dropped, and all that was done with no damage to my neighbor’s garden or my own. 


Several of the tree’s branches were hanging over my house, so I watched nervously, in case doing that might help. (Ha.) Above, the view from my bedroom.


GHI’s fee-for-service manager Clay Otley hired the expert crew to do the deed, and told me that the ash had been infected with disease due to the removal of several of its branches. The tree was doomed, and posed a safety hazard as long as it was standing.


As suspected, the interior of the tree was being hollowed out by disease.  On the right, the machine used to get these humongous pieces of tree out to the chipper parked in the street.


Because the tree had already lost more than one major limb, I underestimated how much shade it was still providing, as did my neighbor. So we experienced that familiar shock that gardeners report after trees come down and their shade gardens suddenly become sun gardens.  We’ll see if these ferns make it or not. Ditto for all my hostas, thriving in their deer-free and (formerly) shady spot.

Moving on, there’s the effect of all the increased direct sunlight on my house.  Honestly, though I’ve read lots about the cooling effect of trees, I wouldn’t have guessed how much impact this tree’s loss would have on my comfort level and air-conditioning bill.

Suddenly, full sun was streaming into my living room, which made sitting in my favorite chair pretty uncomfortable. The wooden blinds on this window had been a poor choice to begin with – too heavy to operate easily, and not terribly effective at blocking the sun.

So I gave away the heavy wooden blinds and ordered some spiffy, high-efficiency double honeycomb shades that open and close from the middle. Above, what they look like now as winter approaches – open on the top for light, closed on the bottom (if needed) for privacy.  On the right, what it looks like fully open, offering the best possible view of the garden.


That doesn’t help the now-sunny porch, though. The view above used to be shaded all day and is now sunny until early afternoon, so I have still more shopping to do to and money to spend, though not from Next-Day Blinds this time – it doesn’t have indoor-outdoor products. Home Depot does, though, and they can be custom-sized. Covering the sunny sides of the porch is going to cost me.

Finally, next spring I’ll be shopping for a nice medium-size tree to put between the sun and my house and porch, and that won’t be cheap, either.

So I’m convinced, more than just reading about efficiency measures had never done, of the incalculable value of deciduous (leaf-dropping) trees that shade in the summer and let light through in the winter when it’s needed. There are lots of other benefits of trees, too, especially in urban settings.

The loss of this and several other trees in my part of Greenbelt recently has neighbors wondering if GHI has a tree replacement plan – coz those original trees are coming down, and members are reluctant to replace them at all, much less with trees that’ll grow to the same impressive size as the originals planted in the 1937.

Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. She also created and curates the Greenbelt Maryland YouTube channel. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com.

4 Responses

  1. Annie Shaw
    | Reply

    Useful article, Susan. I’ve lost smaller trees on my garden side so now have a moderately sunny yard. Since my service side is so shady, I have more variety now and am pleased.
    I believe GHI does offer a variety of trees (and bushes) at low cost annually. We get a notice in late summer for mostly understood trees.

  2. Mary-Denise Smith
    | Reply

    I lost a huge diseased oak in my gardenside yard almost a year ago, and the impact on what had been a completely shaded garden is almost impossible to overstate. What had been a haven for ferns and hostas (and ivy!) became a blast zone with direct mid day sun from June through August. What was going to die from that exposure has done so now, and I can begin to plan the reconstruction, including a replacement tree.

    The question about replacement trees came up at the recent Woodlands Committee meeting – how would we advise GHI residents who will lose trees to the “PEPCO effect”? No clear consensus was reached.

    My personal opinion is to seriously consider “understory” trees that grow no higher than 15′ or 20′, provide shade, color, flowers, and sometimes fruit for wildlife. I am researching dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees, as well, to see if any will grow well with bright light and three hours of direct sun. I have a sour cherry tree in the service side yard, may as well see if I can have an apple tree out back!

    • Diane Fishburne
      | Reply

      Especially interesting to read this after I spent a good hour last night researching oak trees native to Maryland. I would like to block summer light coming into a large, south-facing window at the front of our house. (It is hot, isn’t it?) An oak appeals to me because of the wildlife value but I don’t want a tree so large and heavy it is a menace to my house should it come down in a storm. I am looking into the Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica), the smallest in stature of the native oaks at 30-50 feet. Though I am not in a GHI unit, I am still concerned with the size in proportion to my yard. I have the same concerns with the possibility of the placement of a river birch in my backyard. Is there some kind of consultant one might employ for advice on such a thing?

      • Susan Harris
        | Reply

        I agree – we need guidance! The Arch Review Com of GHI has recommended creation of a Landscape Solutions Task Force, which will look into appropriately sized plants for shade, screening, etc. I’m hoping the Board approves the creation of the task force, which will also consider sheds, fences and built privacy screens.
        In any event, the soon-to-be-relaunched Greenbelt.com is a place where images and tips about plants for small yards will be housed, in addition to tips for small homes.

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