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Exeunt the Devil-Pod Tree, Pursued by a Chain-Saw

devil-pod-treeOne of the Funny Farm’s sources of eternal labor is the Devil-Pod Tree, a vast weeping acacia planted in the backyard, just upwind of the swimming pool, by the previous owners Satan and Proserpine. This unholy plant, now a couple of years older than it was in the photo to the right, towers three times as high as the roof.

And it sheds stuff. It sheds stuff All. The. Time. All year round, I haul bushels of crud from that tree out of the pool.

In the winter, it makes fuzzballs, wads of pollen that cover the earth and clog the pool’s filters. In spring and fall, it drops long, strappy leaves that choke Harvey the Hayward Pool Cleaner and clog the pool’s filters. And all summer long, it produces devil pods, beans that stain the plaster, bring Harvey to a dead stop, and clog the pool’s filters.

And I finally figured out why the pool water is as acid as pickling solution, when I never add a drop of muriatic to it: Acacia trees poison the soil around them by dropping highly acetic debris on the ground, thereby discouraging competition from neighboring plants. So much crud from that damn tree drops in the pool that not only do I have to dump in PhosFree by the gallon, it turns the water to vinegar.

This week I had just replaced the pump pot basket that split in four pieces from the weight and pressure of being clogged by Devil-Pod pollen, had just drained the acid water out and refilled the pool with 18,000 gallons of treated city water, when another rainstorm came in. Not much wind: just rain, mostly fairly gentle.

So much of that pollen crud floated into the drink that once again both the pump pot basket and the skimmer basket were packed so tight the pump could barely push water through them. A great mound of pollen accrued in a pollen dune on the bottom of the pool. Before I could shock-treat and condition the new water, I had to get all the crud out. Again.

Last night the skimmer basket was perfectly clean. By the time the arborist—ah, yes, the arborist!—showed up along about 3:00 p.m., it was more than half full of packed-down pollen. Again.

To frost the cookies, the tree is right next to the house. Like other acacias, it has a reputation for dropping large branches onto (and through) roofs. What with the now-unmistakable climate change, the winds get fiercer here every summer. Matter of fact, as I write this, a stiff breeze is blowing. I’d just as soon be rid of the tree before it lands in my bedroom.

What has given me pause about taking that tree down—other than the slight amount of shade it casts on the northeast corner of the house and my general reluctance to kill plants, especially trees—is the potential cost. Neighbors around here have had house-dwarfing trees removed, to the tune of around a thousand dollars.

Well, I finally figured a thousand bucks is less than it would cost me to move and less than it would cost to fill in the pool and relandscape the backyard. So I’d called Mike of South Mountain Landscaping, a premier arborist, to discuss the tree’s demise.

It is, he says, not a tree he recommends to his clients. Too bad he wasn’t here to restrain Satan and Proserpine from shopping at Moon Valley Nursery, where the staff specialize in high-pressuring people into buying “packages” of “bargain” trees that are totally inappropriate for their yards.

He offered to take the damn thing out for $350.

I couldn’t believe it! So, that is a job that is SOLD! For another $150, he’ll trim up the people-eating palo brea in front, untangle the jungle formed by ongoing battle among the palo brea, the olive tree, and the vitex, and do a little other light cleanup.

For privacy, he suggested orange jubilee. Those things are, however, pretty frost-sensitive around here. My inclination is to go for something like a Lady Banks on the outside of the east wall and maybe a Mexican bird of paradise on the inside. Lady Banks will hold up against the cold weather and gets huge enough to block the view of idle passers-by, while Mexican birds are very pretty and call hummingbirds. There might even be room in that space for a little creosote bush, which emits a lovely scent every time it rains.

Three hundred and fifty dollah! What a bargain…that’s going to be a large, difficult job.

5 thoughts on “Exeunt the Devil-Pod Tree, Pursued by a Chain-Saw”

  1. I suspect you’ll recover that $350 fairly quickly, due to not having to buy replacement pool parts and extra chemicals to combat the acidity. And your peace of mind? Priceless, of course.

  2. Wow, that is a bargain. Skilled arborists are expensive. It costs me about $1500 to have the two mature trees in my backyard pruned and thinned every 2-3 years. When I watch the guys work, I understand why it’s so expensive. All that equipment (cherry picker, giant mulcher, special loppers, harnesses, etc.) and the level of risk involved in working at such heights are tremendous. Sometimes you just have to take a tree down. If they threaten your house and make your life miserable, then it must be done!

  3. @ Kerry: I dunno…. Married Satan?

    @ Carol & Linda: It’s amazing, all right. If not having all that gunk fall into the pool (increasing phosphate levels beyond countability) means I can drain & refill every three years instead of every two years, right off the bat that’s a savings of about $150.

    This Mike guy is incredible. He makes the trees look gorgeous, appears to know what he’s talking about (and doing), and after he’s done the job doesn’t need to be redone for several years.

    @ frugalscholar: Well, you know…when I moved into this house (and the Devil-Pod Tree was a mischievous sapling), that pool didn’t seem like much trouble to take care of. Over the years, the hassle factor has grown incrementally, but I’ve assumed my dislike of the work and the discomfort it creates was a function of my own advancing age. But really: my health is the same; except for staying parked in front of the computer too many hours, I’m not that much weaker. I wonder if what’s happening here is that as the tree has grown it’s dumped more and more debris and so the actual workload has grown commensurately.

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