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Lombardy Poplar Trees

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Picture of lombardy poplar trees planted in a row, forming a privacy screen.

Picture of lombardy poplar trees planted in a row, forming a privacy screen. Click the image to open a mini-photo gallery.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Lombardy Poplars:

Plant taxonomy classifies Lombardy poplar trees as Populus nigra. The most common cultivar is 'Italica.' Like quaking aspens, Lombardy poplars are in the willow family.

Plant Type:

Lombardy poplars are broadleaf, deciduous trees.

Planting Zones for Lombardy Poplar Trees:

Lombardy poplar trees are grown in planting zones 3-9.

Characteristics of Lombardy Poplar Trees:

Lombardy poplar trees are best known for their columnar form and unusual branching structure. Their branches start close to the ground and parallel the trunk. Lombardy poplars will reach 40'-50' in height, with a spread of 10'-15'. Their fall foliage is yellow (for a picture, click "More Images" under the photo at right, which opens a mini-photo gallery).

Sun and Soil Requirements for Lombardy Poplar Trees:

Grow Lombardy poplars in well-drained soils in full sun.

Uses for Lombardy Poplar Trees in Landscaping:

Lombardy poplars are fast-growing trees, growing as much as 6 feet per year. This makes them a popular choice when people want "living wall" privacy screens or windbreaks in a hurry. To serve this function, Lombardy poplars are planted in a row, and spaced about 8' apart. However, they should be considered only as a stop-gap measure for privacy screens and windbreaks, as they are short-lived, being susceptible to a number of pests and diseases (see below).

Pests and Diseases That Trouble Lombardy Poplars:

Lombardy poplar trees are susceptible to borers, cytospora canker and bacterial wetwood, reducing their lifespan. But long before they die, they may be disfigured by these pests and diseases, rendering them unattractive as landscape plants and necessitating their removal. A similar tree, the upright European aspen (Populus tremula 'Erecta'), is said to be more disease-resistant.

Other Problems Associated With Lombardy Poplars:

When it's time to remove Lombardy poplars, be thorough, removing as much of the root system as possible. Lombardy poplars send out suckers throughout their lives -- even from their stumps after they've been cut down. Some hire pros with stump grinders to help get rid of them. But if you've planted a long row of Lombardy poplars, this can run into quite a bit of money, and it still doesn't remove the root system. See the discussion on getting rid of Lombardy poplar trees in my forum.

Another consideration: the roots of Lombardy poplars are invasive and damage drainage systems if planted too close by.

Name Origin of Lombardy Poplars:

The tree originated in the Italian region known as "Lombardy," thus the origin of the common name. The nigra (Latin for "black") in the scientific name refers to the fact that its fissured bark can appear black from a distance.

More on Lombardy Poplar Trees:

Although Lombardy poplars are despised by landscaping professionals, they nonetheless remain a very popular tree with the general public. They exert a fascination over many of us, due to their unusual shape. And the speed with which they ascend to the heavens makes them hard to resist for the impatient.

The reason that Lombardy poplars are held in such low esteem by the pros is that they are short-lived (often succumbing within 15 years to the problems noted above). However, their short life span doesn't strip them of all value for the landscape. Here's a strategy to employ for a privacy planting that makes use of the fast growth rate of Lombardy poplar trees, while compensating for their tendency to decline rapidly:

  • Plant a row of longer-lived screening plants (for instance, Colorado blue spruce trees or arborvitae trees) where you want your final "living wall" to reside.
  • Then plant a temporary row of Lombardy poplars behind them (so as not to deprive the longer-lived plants of sunlight). The Lombardy poplars will soon be affording some privacy, while you wait for the longer-lived plants to reach maturity.
  • To minimize the spread of the Lombardy poplars' roots, dig a planting trench for them and line its sides with a 40-mil high-impact polyurethane barrier -- as you would do to contain a running bamboo.
  • Before the Lombardy poplar trees begin to deteriorate (and before their root systems become too well established), remove them, letting the longer-lived plants take over the job of screening out prying eyes.

Alternatively, of course, we could just exercise a little more patience and wait for the longer-lived plants to grow.

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