If you’ve ever seen it snowing in June, you know the cottonwood tree. 100 feet of thick, grey, deeply furrowed bark and thick, heart-shaped leaves in a spreading crown, make this tree one of the best shade trees in the area. With a growth rate of 6 feet a year, it’s one of the fastest growing.
Historically, the trunks of this tree were used for dugout canoes. Today, they make for great animal shelters, additions to windbreaks and as mentioned, shade trees for parks. While they don’t make for good lumber since the wood will warp and shrink and has no attractive grain to speak of, they do produce a low value lumber that can be used for pallets, crates and boxes. They also make a great pulp. Creating a high-quality paper for books and magazines.
That snow we’re referring to is actually a cotton-like substance, produced by the female tree, that surrounds the tree’s seeds, allowing for better seed dispersal. Some towns have forbidden the planting of cottonwoods and declared them a public nuisance as the seeds can clog filters, collect in gutters and create a fibrous bunch when it rains.
Although they prefer full sun and moist soils, Cottonwoods will tolerate almost any growing condition, making it a cinch for those who need a little help in the gardening department. Since the cottonwood grows at such an accelerated rate, this means it’s left with weak wood, that will easily damage in windy situations. So be sure to plant them away from any power lines or structures. You’ll also want to keep their aggressive roots away from septic systems, sidewalks and foundations.
Due to its quick growth rate, pruning these trees for proper growth should happen while they’re very young so the branches don’t get out of reach. All pruning should be done in the late winter while the tree is dormant and should be done with a clean instrument since this tree is very prone to disease.
So planted in the right area, the cottonwood is a beautiful tree with great shade benefits. Just be sure to check your surroundings to prevent any damage.