Sunday, May 2, 2010

Farewell my Grapefruit Tree

I have spent scores of hours each of the last seven summers trying to prune a 20-year-old pink grapefruit tree into a shade tree. I wanted a shade tree because it is next to the pool, where a shady spot to supervise swimming children is highly desirable. It was a pink grapefruit tree because that was what my parents planted there, many years ago. Unfortunately, our climate is only marginally suited to growing pink grapefruit. The tree produced prolifically, more grapefruits than we could use (and I tried many a recipe to try to raise our consumption). I did give some fruits away, but the tree was infested with so many sucking insects that the skins of the grapefruits were, shall we say, unappealing. The fruit itself was good if you left it on the tree long enough, but more often than not we would pick it too soon and it would be bitter. Sugaring helped, but never completely masked the bitter flavor. My efforts at insect control only got me covered in angry ants, which nurse along the scale and aphids for the "honeydew" they exhude. (The ants eat it. Ew.)

So it was with regret that I began to cut down the tree some weeks ago.

(This is actually our lemon tree, which is alive and well, but I neglected to get a photo of the grapefruit tree before I started taking it down, and I wanted to give a sense of scale.)

Cutting down a mature fruit tree is not a small undertaking. There is a remarkable amount of foliage to be dealt with, and I don't throw away good greenery, even if it is buggy. But I no longer have a chipper, so composting woody material is a slower process than it used to be.  And until a few days ago I was afraid of our electric chainsaw, so I was trying to cut down a 12-foot, branched tree with a handsaw. Yep, that was just as ridiculous a sight as you are now imagining it to have been.

This is the tree after I cut it in half. There had been two major branches/trunks. I hacked away at the left one until it gave way, leaving this funny popsicle shape.
I separated the small, leafy branches from the trunk and placed them in various places around the yard where the chickens have been making messes. It keeps the hens away for a little while, giving the grass a chance to grow. Then I just mow over the piles of dying leaves and twigs whenever I do the lawn, which makes a small, slow compost heap. These tend to get bugs, but then, the chickens tend to enjoy that aspect of the process. I only have so many places around the yard that can handle these piles, though, so it was just as well that the tree take-down was a gradual process. 

I cut the trunk into sections and placed them around the bases of young trees (of species unrelated to citrus.) I haven't noticed old citrus wood getting termites in the wood pile. I have noticed that citrus wood makes noxiously smoky firewoood. I'm not going to throw away good captured carbon, however. I intend to bury it in the garden, chunk by chunk, to become worm food. My clay dirt can always use more organic amendment, even if it takes a decade to get it. For now, the sticks and logs keep the chickens from doing too much digging around some of my younger trees.

And Saturday I finished the project. Well, this phase of it. I finally overcame my fear of the chainsaw, took the main trunk down, and distributed the debris around the yard. Grrlpower, and all that.

Next week I expect to buy a large patio umbrella. Then this summer I will spend my idle poolside moments drilling into the stump and roots, hastening their decomposition. I already have two candidates to replace the old grapefruit, but they're just seedlings and will need a few years to grow up before one of them can fill the spot. By that time, I should have a ratty old patio umbrella I want to be rid of. (Cue "The Circle of Life" playing in the background...)


  1. My favorite local nursery just closed shop and sold off everything at discount, so I am now the proud owner of a guava bush and a cherimoya tree, which I hope to someday plant in my very own yard - and hopefully will never, ever have to chainsaw them! Although the house we're looking at this week appears to have lots of trees already, so some chainsawing may be in my future anyway.

  2. We get mushrooms growing anywhere in the yard that there is wood decomposition going on in the soil - do you get that too or is it too dry?