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We bought a house that has quaking aspens around the perimeter of the yard. About half of them are dying or are already dead. What can we do to prevent the rest of them from dying, and what should we do with the dead trees?
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Aspen are highly subject to a variety of pests including the bronze birch borer, and to a variety of pathogens. They are also not very long-lived, and are thin barked, so are subject to physical damage from lawnmowers and weed trimmers. For these reasons they simply do not make the best yard or street trees. Depending on the situation and the homeowners preferences, I often encourage them to consider planting more appropriate species, and we have a few tools such as the Tree Browser CD to help them in making that decision.
That said, there are a few ways to successfully manage aspen in a suburban setting. They can be sprayed for the above mentioned pests, but need it yearly and still have the weaknesses mentioned, so I don't often encourage that. In some settings, if a specific portion of the yard is given over to growing aspen on a rotational sort of basis it can work. Aspen sprouts vegetatively, so when older trees dye, or just wherever there is full sunlight on the ground nearby, young trees will be coming up on their own. If left alone they will generally do well.
I have a few in a garden in my back yard and if I didn't mow the area near that garden they would take it over. So by having a garden area where they can successfully send up their 'suckers' they will constantly replace themselves over the years. As old ones dye-out they can be removed, taking care to protect the young ones coming up in the process.
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