If you don’t like Russian olive, get rid of it

We have a huge Russian olive tree in our backyard. No one has ever said specifically to us that we need to get rid of it, but I have heard people talking about them being a noxious plant or something. Are we supposed to take it out? It does provide shade but we don’t particularly like or dislike it. What are your thoughts on Russian olive trees?

— Judy

Well, you’re asking a question that a lot of people have debated over the past several years. From a landscaping standpoint, Russian olive serves a valuable purpose. They’re pretty fast-growing, drought-tolerant, salt-tolerant shelter, feed quite a number of bird species and lend a certain “Mediterranean” air to the landscape with their dark green leaves with the silvery gray underside.

Unfortunately, from an ecological standpoint, Russian olive is invasive, naturalizing throughout Colorado wherever there’s some water available and crowding out native vegetation.

Because of this trait, Russian olive is on the noxious weed list for Colorado. That doesn’t mean you have to cut your tree down. It’s OK to leave it if you want; you just can’t buy new ones in the state to plant. There are different levels within the noxious weed list, and this plant isn’t designated for eradication. However, good stewardship might warrant removal of the tree, especially if you’re not that attached to it.

I have a 12-foot by12-foot space next to my vegetable garden that might be suitable for a tree that would offer shade. A smaller flower garden with fence borders the other side of this space. I would like advice on a type of tree that might be compatible with a vegetable garden. Is there a smaller type of tree you could recommend? Would the required spraying, etc. for fruit trees interfere with the more organic nature of the garden?

— Barb

If the tree really, really, really can’t get wider than 12 feet at maturity, your choices are limited. There aren’t a lot of plants that are tree-like and fit that size range. Snow Fountains cherry is a very nice tree that would fit into that area, but it’s really an ornamental specimen, not something we look to get any shade out of. You might consider a variety of saucer magnolia like “Galaxy,” “Ann,” or “Merrill.” They will probably get a bit bigger than what you’re looking for, but they grow awfully slowly, so it would be decades before that would become an issue. I also think magnolia are happiest with some shade in the afternoon around here.

Another good choice is a tree form rose of Sharon. Not too sure they would reach 12 feet (probably 8 feet to 10 feet) but they make a lovely little specimen and have gorgeous flowers from midsummer into fall.

Another possibility is a tree form hydrangea. Again, they’ll be smaller like the rose of Sharon, but are beautiful in bloom through the summer.


I misplaced your article from a few years ago about certain trees and shrubs that can and shouldn’t be planted around leach fields. Could you please refresh my memory?

— Gary

I’m usually not that concerned about planting most trees near a leach field. You want to be careful about planting too close to the septic tank, however. Plant roots in the leach field actually help improve water capacity of the system, but if they get in the septic tank, they can clog up the works. The only trees I really worry about are riparian species that naturally grow along stream and riverbanks like willow, birch, maple, sycamore, cottonwood and other poplars. I’d probably try to keep them well away from the leach field.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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