Permaculture in Practice: Apply Self-Regulation and Feedback

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to reflect on what is working and what is not. Sometimes our environment gives us no choice but to perform that reflection.

About 7 years ago, I planted a Northern Catalpa in our backyard. Northern Catalpas are native to the Mississippi River valley, just a ways southwest of here. They have big, beautiful heart-shaped leaves that are surprisingly tropical looking for a northern tree. They have interesting rough bark, and gorgeous white orchid-like flowers that cover the trees in late June. In the winter, they drip with long seed pods that look like foot long beans made of chocolate. They are not a boring tree by any means.

Unfortunately, my tree has avoided being boring not only with its stunning looks, but also by the way its unpredictable behavior keeps me on my toes. About 5 years ago, shortly after I admired its beauty and perfection to my dad as we talked on the phone, it started abruptly wilting. In was mid-summer and a little dry, so I picked up the watering, but the wilting was not helped.

I suspect the tree somehow contracted verticillium wilt. Maybe it happened when I knicked a root while digging nearby once. Or perhaps I did not cause the problem at all. I noticed a poorly made pruning cut when I first bought the tree, but bought it anyway because it was the only catalpa left by the time I went shopping for a tree. Could that have introduced the disease?

Whatever the cause, the tree is a roller coaster every year – sometimes looking devastatingly beautiful, other times looking droopy and sad. I’ve considered pulling it out more than once because there is no cure for verticillium wilt, but have read that some trees will overcome the disease eventually and so have held out hope that mine will.

This year it has really outdone itself, though, and lost nearly all of its leaves after a hot, dry spell in mid-July. I bring you the catalpa in June of this year just as it came into bloom and the same catalpa in July:

Now the hard part – listening to what this tree is telling me. I desperately want the tree to survive. It is in the perfect spot to provide a spot of shade in the summer. We’ve spend lovely afternoons sitting under its branches. Its flowers make me smile every summer, and its huge leaves are glorious. Just a month ago, we had tables set up under its canopy for my son’s high school graduation party.

Up until now, I’ve been able to believe that perhaps this tree would be one of the rare survivors. After all, it wilted every year in late summer, but came back as beautiful as ever in the spring. But I think it is more likely that it is telling me that it is time torecognize that this tree is not going to make it.

What do you think? Give it another year or cut my losses and take it down?

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