Friday, January 9, 2015

Homage to a Yucca

Last month I published a post recounting the sad story of the Yucca elephantipes (aka Y. gigantea) seated at the bottom of our back slope on the boundary between our property and that of a neighbor.  After watching the Yucca grow taller and spread further along the slope, my husband tried to trim it back.  That effort, and the Yucca's resilience in making a quick comeback, led my husband to declare war on the plant (much as he'd done many years ago with a Bougainvillea that, no matter how frequently it was trimmed, grew out across the driveway at our old house to scratch the car he'd painstakingly converted from gas to electric power).  When our neighbor came by to discuss the possibility of cutting the Yucca back, my husband mounted a campaign to remove it.  Although he has been known to blink at what I spend on plants, he didn't blink at the price quoted to cut the massive plant down to 2 feet.  (I, on the other hand, nearly had an apoplectic fit.)  Even the neighbor was surprised when we informed him that we (I'm using the royal "we" here) wished to proceed.

In about 6 hours, the Yucca went from this:

Yucca, photographed looking down onto the back slope in November 2014


To this:

The same area, photographed December 5, 2014


No one was happy about how the landscape service left the Yucca.  Instead of 2 feet tall, it was between 4 and 5 feet tall in places.

The huge, irregular stumps left behind


In addition to being ugly, the stumps were too tall to cover with soil to speed decay and prevent the plant from growing back.  Yet, they were also too low to provide privacy between the 2 properties.  A representative from the landscape service quoted another choke-worthy fee to cut the stumps flush with the surface of the soil.  We agreed to the plan but recently got another quote from a different tree service representative, who claimed his team could get a stump grinder down the slope to eliminate the risk of regrowth, something the original service claimed was impossible.  We accepted his proposal.

The new team arrived on Tuesday, just as I was leaving for the day.  My husband told me that getting the stump grinder down the relatively steep slope proved more difficult than anticipated by the new service.  Fortunately, the neighbor on the other side of us agreed to allow us to move it through the back of her property.



With that obstacle removed, the team got to work.  I came home that evening to find the work half-done, with the crew scheduled to return early the next morning - in exchange for a still larger fee.

The scene at the start of the second day of work

The lattice and pots beyond the stumps sit on the neighbor's property

The tree service increased their price, in part, due to our request to also grind out the small stumps higher on the slope, off-shoots of the original Yucca (circled area)


After another 9 hours of work on that second day, all that was visible was sawdust and mud:

View of area as of January 8, 2015

The sawdust left behind after grinding the stumps is fluffy and very moist, creating a spongy surface, which may take a while to dry out


Now what remains is to determine what we should plant to create a new screen between the 2 properties.  I've proposed planting 3 Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Silver Sheen' but the neighbor has yet to respond.  Although we believe the Yucca, or most of it anyway, was inside our property line, I want to ensure that the neighbors are comfortable with the choice.  They've told us the Yucca was already tree-height 34 years ago when they moved in and I know the wife was upset by its removal.  The privacy issue is also greater for them - we're impacted only when we're on the back slope but they face the newly bare area every time they go into their backyard.  The Pittosporum, a handsome if unexciting plant, has the advantage of being fast-growing, reaching a height of 6 feet in as little as a year.  In a group of 3, it should provide an effective screen, while allowing light and air to move easily through it.  It's also moderately drought tolerant.

While I do like the increased light and improved views of the harbor from the back slope, I'm nonetheless sad to see the Yucca reduced to a soggy mass of dust.  And I know that the hummingbirds and I will miss the flowers.




But I can always visit the handsome, well-maintained Yucca elephantipes at the local botanic garden, just 5 miles away.



 All material © 2012-2015 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

39 comments:

  1. Hooray for getting those stumps ground! All that nice open space looks fabulous. I hope you and your neighbor can settle on a good plan for screening.

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    1. I hope the neighbors respond - they acknowledged completion of the work but didn't say a word about what they're looking for in a screen or what they thought about the idea I tossed out.

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  2. Well darn. I'd miss it too, especially since all I have to go by are the photos, not the cold hard reality. I still need to post a pic I took of one in a front garden in Berkeley. It was both beautiful and terrifying.

    What botanical garden is only 5 miles away from you?

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    1. South Coast Botanic Garden. It's nice enough but doesn't come close to competing with The Huntington or the LA Arboretum.

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  3. Sigh, what a problem, having an overgrown Yucca...

    Saying that it was a nuisance to get it sorted, not to mention costly so good to see it sorted out now.

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    1. Although I warned my husband of my fears about attempting removal, even I was surprised by the cost, which was almost 3.5X the cost of taking out the 60 foot tall Eucalyptus years ago.

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  4. A cautionary tale. Seller: "Oh, Mr. and Mrs. P., I forgot to tell you that in order to maintain your excellent views you will need to hire a landscape/tree service occasionally. The other arm and leg will go to the plumber when the ground shifts and you have to realign both the incoming and outgoing systems." Grin.

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    1. Moving into this area came with lots of unexpected costs, Jane. The "view conservation" issue, covered by a local statute here, certainly wasn't on my radar.

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  5. Well it looks a lot better with the stumps removed. It is scary how plants can outgrow their space. The Pittosporum sounds like a good solution.

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    1. Yes, at least the ugly stumps are gone. I don't want to look into my neighbor's yard, though, so I hope we can settle on a screening material soon.

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  6. I can understand why your neighbor's wife is upset, but I think Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Silver Sheen' will make a good replacement. It is hard to remove a mature, healthy tree, but sometimes difficult decisions must be made. Now that the stumps are gone, things look much better. Once the replacement is growing, all will be well.

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    1. I think the neighbor's issue is probably more about her privacy than the plant itself but she's not much for talking. In fact, before the recent Yucca trimming discussions, I'd never seen her, much less spoken to her, in the 4 years we've lived here.

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  7. What an incredible job! A shame that the Yucca had to be removed but I can understand that they were just too big! It should be a lesson to us all, the cost of a small plant isn't that high but its future removal if it has been a bad choice can be astronomic. I think your choice of replacement sounds good, but it that also grows very quickly, might it not be a problem in the future?

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    1. Most resources say the Pittosporum tops out between 15-18 feet, which shouldn't present any issue whatsoever for the neighbors. The plants take pruning well, too, so we can always cut it back if necessary.

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  8. What a job! Must be a relief to have it properly gone now. I hope you and your neighbours come to an agreement about the Pittosporum.

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  9. I hope you don't mind me asking what might be a silly question. If theYuccas were on your property, why do you need to consult the neighbour as to what you are replacing them with? I am presuming out of courtesy but perhaps not.
    Looks far better minus the stumps and although costly, it's a cost you will probably not regret Kris.

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    1. The boundary line isn't 100% clear, although, now that the space has been cleared, it does appear it's probably ours. However, the Yucca served as a fence of sorts between the 2 properties so, in the interest of preserving goodwill, we want the neighbors to comfortable with the replacement.

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  10. That is quite a difference, but it sounds like it came with an unenviable cost! I hope the neighbours agree to your proposal; I've rarely seen the newer Pittosporum cultivars get above 20' so it should be a good choice, Matt

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    1. Yes, I think the size of the Pittosporum should be fine - and we can always prune it back if it get too big.

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  11. What an ordeal and expense--whew! I think the disposal sites go by weight, so there may be a lot of the cost--those stems weigh tons.

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    1. That's a good point - I hadn't thought about the cost of disposing of all those trunk pieces. I know from personal experience how heavy they are as my husband initially assigned me the task of carting chunks of what he "pruned" up the slope. Too bad water can't be extracted from Yucca stems - there has to be a lot tied up there.

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  12. Ouch! It's nasty to find yourself stuck in the middle with something like that, isn't it?? I love your shots of the Yucca (reminiscences of childhood outings to the Succulent Garden at the Huntington), but I know sometimes things do overgrow their space... Good luck with the pittosporum and the neighbors!

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    1. It was the Yucca's rampant growth both up and down the slope that alarmed my husband, Amy - he thought it would be invading the main level of our backyard one day. It rooted wherever a stem touched earth.

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  13. So OK - fences (or was it walls?) make for good neighbors, and overgrown yucca make for - the jury is still out. That is painful about the escalating expense of it all, hopefully a year from now you'll be posting before and after shots of your lovely screening pittosporum!

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    1. Well, fences don't mount an invasion. Although I personally advocated just cutting the Yucca back, my husband didn't think the plant could be controlled. In any case, that debate is over now.

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  14. Wow what a job with the stump!
    How nice it was at the site after the removal !!
    Have a good day Kris
    Mariana

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    1. It is good to have that stage of the operation done Mariana!

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  15. Sounds like the neighbor isn't too friendly, but at least she's not outright hostile. Boundaries, views, delicate issues to say the least! Kind of exciting to have planting space for something big, maybe the Catalina ironwood? Said to be fast growing to 50-60 feet...

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    1. Whatever I plant needs to stay below the level of the upper-tier hedge (and screen out our view of the neighbor's property and vice versa). An ironwood would have my husband calling in another legion of tree service people!

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  16. What about the Metrosideros 'Springfire' you were eyeing a few posts ago? Flowers for the bees and hummers...nice and dense, good privacy screen.

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    1. Funny you should mention that! My husband and I did another tour of the slope late this afternoon, trying to determine exactly where the property line sits and what we need to do to prepare the cleared area for planting. The Metrosideros came to mind when I passed a dwarf species I have in the backyard. One of my biggest concerns is speed of growth - if I can't get a fence-sized screen in place relatively quickly, I'm afraid the neighbor will construct a light-blocking fence on her side. According to San Marcos Growers, their Metrosideros took 15 years to reach 20 feet, which suggests that the plant may grow too slowly to provide the fence-high screen I need. I'll dig a bit deeper to see what I can find on the plant's rate of growth. Thanks for the push!

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    2. I think my 5 gallon hit 5 feet in a year, 8' the year after that.

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  17. What an ordeal to get rid of your yucca! When your replacements are growing beautifully, you'll be happy. What a treat to have an open space to plant something new!

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    1. Yes, I expect I will be happier with something else in place of that Yucca - it did block the light, as well as the view. Hopefully, the neighbor will feel the same way.

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  18. I didn't know Yucca stems could get that massive! Yucca grows here but doesn't get very big.

    It looked like a huge undertaking to get that out. I hope you can find a replacement that both you and your neighbor will be happy with.

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    1. It's this particular species of Yucca that gets huge. It's common here - I probably pass close to a dozen on the road to our local supermarket - but this one, placed on a slope and unattended for years, got completely out of control.

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