September 03, 2018

Tree of Heaven leads to Garden From Hell

An East York, Toronto Garden Cleanup




A character in a Robert Frost poem opined that "Good fences make good neighbors" and I find after living and gardening within a large and congested city like Toronto, this sentiment is often true. Small postage stamp-sized (people still use stamps to mail or even mail letters anymore?) backyards in which I usually work tend to focus the attention inwards towards (usually) a patio or deck close to the back door and the concept of a "borrowed view" is not appropriate or even desired.

Privacy is also often very important for many homeowners and since there are by-laws here concerning the maximum height of a fence you can put up, people often plant hedges at the base of their fences in the hope of someday walling themselves in from the noise and perceived unwanted attention of their neighbours.


And, yes, when it comes to gardening, "outdoor room" design, plant choices, etc., your tastes and aesthetics will naturally be a little (or a lot) different from your neighbours'. For example, you may have spent much time, effort and money to design, build and maintain your piece of Paradise in the back (or paid some company to do so). In short, you "give a damn about your garden" as one of my clients stated after I asked him why he hired me.


But what if your neighbour doesn't give a damn about her garden and a fence is useless in ensuring goodwill between adjacent garden owners, horticulturally-speaking?




Tree of Heaven Saplings in an East York Toronto Backyard by Paul Jung Gardening Services
Tree of Heaven Saplings in
an East York, Toronto Backyard 



From the street, Nadia's (my client's) home and her neighbour's look very average and unremarkable, like houses you pass by everyday without giving a second thought. She hired me to weed and tidy the backyard and as I was walking towards the back garden, I seen the above, looking into the neighbour's "garden" (there was no gate).

You'll have to use your imagination a little here and think of a narrow and long (easily 30' x 100') area completely covered by Tree of Heaven saplings and suckers, annual and perennial weeds and G*d knows what.


The picture above shows Ailanthus' distinctive large pinnately compound leaves which, frankly, stink of burnt rubber (to me) when rubbed or crushed. It's truly a pest: an fast growing and invasive tree that self-seeds and suckers readily in all soils and settings.

At first, I assumed the homeowner was deceased and the house empty of years but Nadia reassured me: "Oh no, she's very much alive."

And here's the view from Nadia's side looking over the fence into her neighbour's yard. The garden, too, is "very much alive":


Tree of Heaven Saplings in an East York Toronto Neighbour's Backyard by Paul Jung Gardening Services
Tree of Heaven Saplings in
an East York, Toronto
 Neighbour's Backyard 


And the culprit and the source of all these Ailanthus altissima saplings and suckers? It's this huge tree in the same yard:




Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) in  an East York, Toronto Backyard
Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)
in an East York, Toronto Backyard

If you're on the lookout for a Tree of Heaven, you'll soon find the tree almost anywhere in the city: laneways, alleys, front gardens, back gardens, abandoned lots, at the base of buildings, anywhere! The tree produces a ton of winged seeds (samaras) which often stay attached to the tree over winter, drop in spring and germinate readily. More problematic is the relentless suckering the Tree of Heaven is well-known for which is not surprising as it's in the same family as sumacs (and often confused for them). While the seedlings are easy to pull out by hand, the suckers are not. Cutting a sucker or sapling down to the ground will only encourage it to re-sprout even more vigorously.

(For more details about this pest tree, here's a great link by the PennState Extension: Tree-of-Heaven)


Dealing with a Neighbour's Tree of Heaven during a Garden Cleanup


Nadia contacts me once a year to weed and tidy up her East York, Toronto back garden and while the severity of weeds can vary yearly, what doesn't change is the existence of Tree of Heaven seedlings and suckers growing in her garden. 2018's cleanup wasn't any different from 2017's visit and likely 2019's cleanup will be similar: pulling and digging out dozens of baby Ailanthus altissimas.


Here are some "before pictures of the backyard cleanup:


East York Toronto Backyard Summer Garden Cleanup Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
East York Toronto Backyard
Summer Garden Cleanup Before 



Toronto Backyard Summer Garden Cleanup Before East York by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
Toronto Backyard Summer
Garden Cleanup Before East York 



By a Toronto Gardening Company East York Toronto Backyard Garden Cleanup Before Paul Jung Gardening Services
 East York Toronto Backyard
Garden Cleanup Before 



East York Toronto Backyard Garden Cleanup Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
East York Toronto Backyard
Garden Cleanup Before



Toronto Summer Weeding and Garden Cleanup Before East York by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
Toronto Summer Weeding and
Garden Cleanup Before East York 


By Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company East York Toronto Backyard Garden Cleanup Before
East York Toronto Backyard
Garden Cleanup Before

You'll notice in most of the pictures, Tree of Heaven progeny are growing quickly.


After the Cleanup:



East York Toronto Backyard Summer Garden Cleanup After by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
East York Toronto Backyard
Summer Garden Cleanup After 



Toronto Backyard Summer Garden Cleanup After East York by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
Toronto Backyard Summer
Garden Cleanup After East York 



By a Toronto Gardening Company East York Toronto Backyard Garden Cleanup After Paul Jung Gardening Services
 East York Toronto Backyard
Garden Cleanup After



East York Toronto Backyard Garden Cleanup After by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
East York Toronto Backyard
Garden Cleanup After 


Toronto Summer Weeding and Garden Cleanup After East York by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
Toronto Summer Weeding and
Garden Cleanup After East York



By Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company East York Toronto Backyard Garden Cleanup After
 East York Toronto Backyard
Garden Cleanup After

While it was gratifying to remove the weeds and, particularly, the Ailanthus seedlings and suckers for Nadia, it was also sobering to think that they will return in a year's time and for gosh-knows how long since there are no plans removing the giant parent tree next door.

Tree of Heaven, pffft!