Poplars  and Aspens

Poplars and Aspens

The genus is Populus, and there are about 9 native to the United States, and there are many important hybrids. Poplars are found in almost all areas of the country, ornamentally planted if not found naturally.

This group is best planted where there is abundant water, and where roots will not effect underground pipes. All of these can be used as fencelines or border trees, or in reforestation planting projects. The Lombardy Poplar, which is an improved hybrid, has a very narrow shape that makes stately lines. The Hybrid Poplar is a sterile fast growing medium-shaped tree, which makes a nice shade tree as well as for screens and windbreaks. The Quaking Aspen is very popular, with its shimmering gold leaves in the fall and white trunks.

We grow the -

Empire National Nursery, fast
growing trees and nursery plants for home garden landscaping Hybrid Poplar
Empire National Nursery, fast
growing trees and nursery plants for home garden landscaping Lombardy Poplar
Empire National Nursery, fast
growing trees and nursery plants for home garden landscaping Quaking Aspen

The Hybrid Poplars

One of the most popular trees for fast growth are the Hybrid Poplars. Although ordinary Poplars are great, along with the Cottonwoods, they have disadvantages compared to the hybrids. The hybrids are more insect and disease resistant, faster growth, and they are sterile - won't make a cottony mess!

Poplars and Cottonwoods, plus Aspens, belong to the genus Populus, in the Willow Family Salicaceae). There are about thirty species native to North America, but the number of hybrid poplars are becoming equally numerous. In fact, because Populus is an important timber species, mainly for paper pulp production, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of commercial clonal varieties developed. What we see in the marketplace are hybrid species, often lumped together under a single generic name. We call our hybrid poplars, just Hybrid Poplars, and that's perfectly fine, basically its the hybrid - Populus deltoides var. deltoides. This variety is good for most areas nationwide!

So what really are the differences between the hybrids and the non-hybrids, or even the clones? There are several to note, but also in some ways, there's little difference.

Sterile - the cottony fluffs that float around all late spring. One of the complaints from those who either have allergies or have to the yard clean-up, is that the cottony seeds blow all over the yard in the spring. The hybrids are sterile and make no seeds, no cotton, so... no problems.

Faster growth rates - The importance of the wood and pulp fibers is increasingly valuable. Poplars are largely used in the paper-making process, the faster the growth, the sooner the material is available for harvest and use. So the hybrids tend to be much faster growing than natural non-hybrid species, so they are preferred and planted en` masse. Growth rates in good moist soil conditions can be eight feet a year, but its not unusual for trees to grow twelve feet or more in a single season. This means in just two or three years, the little "sticks" can become a solid wall of greenery. For forest products production, trees can be harvested in as early as five years, but ten to twenty is more common. Only the hybrid willows are faster growing.

More insect and disease resistance - Fast growing trees occupy what's known as a "pioneer" position in the succession of bare land into old-age forest. They are the first trees to cover the land, noted by their fast growth, softer wood, and relatively short age lifespan. Because the Pioneers quickly cycle nutrients in and through the soil, their purpose for existence is short-lived (in a forest scheme of things). Insects and diseases adds to this cycle of forest-building, a natural but destructive relationship. The hybrids are more resistant to many of the natural predators and pathogens, which then relates to longer life and larger trees.

Little or no root spreading or suckering - Some species are prone to spread roots into pipes and septic tanks, and then shoot up new trees all over the yard. This causes a considerable amount of irritation (to say the least), and has given poplars a bad reputation among landscapers . The hybrids tend not to be root spreaders or sucker trees, at least to some degree . For ornamental usage, this is very worthwhile.

There's an interesting theory regarding root spreading of many tree species, having to do with water availability. If water is abundant for these high-water users, then they tend not to spread their roots. If water is limited, then they spread roots farther. We have seen this in the nursery , but whether this is a hard and fast rule, remains debatable.

Better form - Again, because of the commercial value of the genus, having trees that are shaped better, makes for better products. Some poplars are grown large enough for veneer and cabinet work, as well as other wood products. The straighter and clearer the "bole" (trunk), the better. For ornamental planting, if a tree can be bred to be more colorful, straighter, narrower or broader, different sized leaves, or whatever, that adds to product diversity. Therefore the hybrids are also developed for better shape, known as "form".

The poplars are very interesting, and the hybrids are unique and increasingly popular and available. Another great feature is that they can be planted from Zones 2 to 9, which just about covers the whole country.

Aspen Notes

For the color of its trunk, the beauty of the fall golden color, and the versatility in the landscape design, quaking aspens have become more popular. The birches are widely planted for their white trunks, but aspens are "the other white tree". They are fascinating trees with a lot potential.

Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) is in the Poplar family, and they are the most widely distributed tree in North America. They range from the northeastern states, all across Canada, in through Alaska, and found throughout the mountains of the western states, and into northern Mexico. They are found in a wide climatic range, with temperatures varying from -78 degrees in winter to over 100 degrees in summer. Aspens are found up to 10,000 foot elevation, where precipitation is as low as 7 inches, and a growing season barely 80 days long.

The soil conditions also vary from shallow rocky outcrops, to sandy types, to heavy clay. At high elevations, they grow in glacial outwash, shallow rock outcrops, even volcanic cinder cone soils. Much of their range is typically moist peat moss bogs. They are quick to reforest open areas caused from fires, avalanches, or heavy wind blow-downs.

Given favorable growing conditions, full sun, plenty of moisture, a little fertilizer, and a reasonable growing season, the quaking aspen will grow straight and tall very quickly. They do like water, being a poplar, and the shallow roots will spread and send up new sprouts. Sprouting can be discouraged by having a thick mulch layer around the tree. The root sprouting is typically a sunlight induced reaction. Keep them at least ten feet away from any domestic water lines. Heights up to 80 feet or more, and up to 2 feet in diameter can be possible.

Along with root sprouting, a potential drawback with aspens is their relatively short lives, 50 years, but 80 to 90 years is more common.

The wood is soft and light, making aspen not the premium choice for the fireplace, although it can be good kindling. Wood-working projects is a popular use, but paper production is the primary use of the tree. In the landscape design, use the tree like you would a birch - anywhere you want lines of white-trunked trees, or in clumps, or anywhere that gets a lot of visual attention. They're called quaking aspen because of the two-toned green leaves that shimmer in the breeze.

White trunks, magnificent fall gold color, an attractive tree throughout the year, makes the quaking aspen a worthwhile tree. Quaking Aspen - "the other white tree".

Empire National Nursery, fast
growing trees and nursery plants for home garden landscaping

Poplar Changes

Over the past several years,we had some of the other Hybrid Poplars. As production and supplies of seelable plants increases, we willa gain offer other hybrids. For a number of years, our primary "Hybrid Poplar" was the Eastern Cottonwood, also called the Siouxland Poplar (Populus deltoides v. deltoides). This is plantable almost nationwide, and performs well in growth rate, survival, form, and durability.

The New Hybrids we have added are the -

Imperial Carolina Poplar (Populus canadensis v. Imperial)
Prairie Sky Poplar (Populus canadensis v. Prairie Sky)
Norway Poplar (Populus v. Norway)
Cottonless Cottonwood (Populus canadensis v. Robusta)

And as production allows, we will again offer -

Androscoggin Poplar (Populus spp.)
Fremont Cottonwood (Populus fremontii)

The differences between these new poplars and our standard Siouxland is basically that they are more narrow in shape, resembling the Lombardy in many cases. Need a narrower fast-growing poplar, then any of these might work also.

And our Lombardy Poplars are also hybrids, being the Theves Poplar (Populus nigra v. thevestina), which is the one we grow. There are a couple other hybrid Lombardys out there as well.

Empire National Nursery, fast
growing trees and nursery plants for home garden landscaping Eastern Cottonwod (Siouxland Poplar) - Very fast growth, gets up to 80 feet tall in Zone 3 to 10. They need full sun, are non-suckering (supposedly), but are versatile as screens, fencelines, or as shade trees.

Empire National Nursery, fast
growing trees and nursery plants for home garden landscaping Lombardy Poplar (Theves Poplar) - Very fast growth, gets up to 80 feet tall. these are hardy from Zones 2 to 10, also need full sun, very tight column shape, making them great for fencelines and narrow spaces.

Empire National Nursery, fast
growing trees and nursery plants for home garden landscaping Quaking Aspen - Fast grower, up to 60 feet tall, also good for Zones 2 to 9. They also need full sun, but it is their beautiful white trunks and fall golden color that make these popular.

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    Last Update: 01/24/2020
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