Average Lifespans for Garden Trees

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Most garden trees will never reach an age even close to their maximum. Photo: Moriori, Wikimedia Commons

The typical homeowner doesn’t really have to think much about how long the tree they plant will live. The average time most of us live in the same home, according to the National Association of Home Builders, is only about 13 years … and just about any tree will live longer than that.

But maybe your plans are different: you might have found your dream home and intend to live there a long time. Or perhaps you’re thinking of planting a living memorial, say at the birth of a grandchild who, you hope, will live to be at least 90. If so, you might want to look for a tree that will likely outlive your need for it.

What follows is a list of trees and their average lifespan under home garden conditions. Yes, many of them do live longer (sometimes much longer!) under exceptionally good conditions, but in the average lot, where soil is often severely compacted, where lawnmowers damage trunks, where roots are dug up to repair pipes and foundations, and where trees in declining health are often removed decades before they’d topple over in the wild, you can expect a serviceable life of about the number of years cited below.

  1. Acer negundo (box elder, Manitoba maple) — 60 years
  2. Acer platanoides (Norway maple) — 100 years
  3. Acer rubrum (red maple) — 100 years
  4. Acer saccharatum (silver maple) — 100 years
  5. Acer saccharum (sugar maple) — 75 years
  6. Acer tataricum ginnala (Amur maple) —60 years

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    Aesculus hippocastanum. Photo: Pixabay

  7. Aesculus hippocastanum (horse chestnut) — 75 years
  8. Amelanchier canadensis (serviceberry) — 40 years
  9. Betula alleghaniensis (yellow birch) — 75 years
  10. Betula nigra (river birch) — 70 years
  11. Betula papyrifera (paper birch) — 30 years
  12. Betula pendula (European white birch) — 30 years
  13. Carpinus caroliniana (American hornbeam) — 80 years
  14. Catalpa speciosa (northern catalpa) — 75 years
  15. Celtis occidentalis (northern hackberry) — 80 years
  16. Cercis canadensis (redbud) — 40 years
  17. Cornus florida (flowering dogwood) — 30 years
  18. Diospyros virginiana (persimmon) — 60 years
  19. Elaeagnus angustifolia (Russian olive) — 50 years
  20. Fagus grandifolia (American beech) — 125 years
  21. Fagus sylvaticus (European beech) — 125 years
  22. Fraxinus americana (white ash) — 100 years (10 when the emerald ash borer is present)
  23. Fraxinus pennsylvanica (green ash) — 75 years (10 when the emerald ash borer is present)
  24. Ginkgo (ginkgo) — 100+ years
  25. Gleditsia triacanthos (honey locust) — 75 years
  26. Juglans nigra (black walnut) — 100+ years
  27. Juniperus chinensis (Chinese juniper) — 75 years
  28. Juniperus scopulorum (Rocky Mountain juniper) — 50 years
  29. Juniperus virginiana (eastern red cedar) — 50 years

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    Larix decidua. Photo: Peter O’Connor, Flickr

  30. Larix decidua (European larch) — 100+ years
  31. Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree) — 100 years
  32. Magnolia × soulangeana (saucer magnolia) — 50 years
  33. Malus domestica (apple) — 30–40 years
  34. Malus spp. (crab apple) —variable, some 30 years, others 50 years
  35. Metasequoia glyptostrobiodes (dawn redwood) — 100+ years
  36. Morus alba (white mulberry) — 100 years
  37. Nyssa sylvatica (black tupelo) — 100 years
  38. Picea abies (Norway spruce) — 75 years
  39. Picea glauca (white spruce) — 75 years
  40. Picea mariana (back spruce) — 50 years
  41. Picea pungens (Colorado blue spruce) — 75 years
  42. Pinus mugo (mugho pine) — 75 years
  43. Pinus nigra (Austrian pine) — 50 years
  44. Pinus ponderosa (ponderosa pine) — 75 years
  45. Pinus strobus (eastern white pine) — 100+ years
  46. Pinus sylvestris (scots pine) — 75 years
  47. Platanus × hispanics (London plane tree) — 75 years
  48. Populus balsamifera (balsam poplar — 60 years
  49. Populus x canadensis ’Robusta’ (Canada poplar) — 40 years
  50. Populus deltoides (Eastern cottonwood) — 70 years

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    Populus nigra ‘Italica’. Photo: Wikipédia

  51. Populus nigra ‘Italica’ (Lombardy poplar) — 20 years
  52. Populus tremuloides (quaking aspen) — 50 years
  53. Prunus avium (sweet cherry) — 25 years
  54. Prunus cerasus (sour cherry) — 25 years
  55. Prunus laurocerasus (cherry-laurel) — 50 years
  56. Prunus maackii (Amur cherry) — 30 years
  57. Prunus padus (bird cherry) — 50 years
  58. Prunus pensylvanica (pin cherry) — 20 years
  59. Prunus persica (peach) — 15 years
  60. Prunus serotina (black cherry) — 60 years
  61. Prunus serrulata (Japanese flowering cherry) — 30 years
  62. Prunus virginiana (chokecherry) — 30 years
  63. Pseudotsuga menziesii glauca (Rocky Mountain Douglas fir) — 100+ years
  64. Pyrus calleryana (Bradford pear) — 25 years
  65. Pyrus communis (common pear) — 50 years
  66. Quercus alba (white oak) — 100 years

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    Quercus palustris. Photo:  josh jackson, Wikimedia Commons

  67. Quercus palustris (pin oak) — 75 years
  68. Quercus robur (English oak) — 75 years
  69. Quercus rubra (red oak) — 75 years
  70. Robinia pseudacacia (black locust) — 75 years
  71. Salix × sepulcralisChrysocoma’ (golden weeping willow) — 50 years
  72. Salix nigra (black willow) — 70 years
  73. Sequoiadendron giganteum (Sierra redwood) — 100+ years
  74. Sorbus aucuparia (European mountain ash) — 25 years
  75. Taxodium distichum (bald cypress) — 100 years
  76. Taxus baccata (European yew) — 100+ years
  77. Taxus cuspidata (Japanese yew) — 75 years
  78. Thuja occidentalis (eastern white cedar, arborvitae) — 100+ years
  79. Thuja plicata (western redcedar) — 100+ years
  80. Tilia americana (basswood) — 75 years
  81. Tilia cordata (little-leaf linden) — 75 years
  82. Tsuga heterophylla (western hemlock) — 100+ years
  83. Tsuga occidentalis (hemlock, tamarack) — 75 years
  84. Ulmus americana (American elm, white elm) — 30 years (100+ for varieties resistant to Dutch elm disease)20170827A ENG Moriori, WC

Trees: Wanted, Dead or Alive!

20170810B Philip Harding, geograph.org.uk

Although dying, this tree is still playing a useful role in its environment. Photo: Philip Harding, geograph.org.uk

Trees are essential parts of our landscape. We cherish them for the beauty they give to our gardens and cities and the way they filter and clean the air we breathe and bring the temperature down a few degrees in the heat of the summer. Just seeing them has been shown to make people feel better and relax, lowering heart rates and reducing stress.

And trees are long-term investments. Some can live 1,000 years or more … but very few do.

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City trees are often short-lived. Photo: Kgbo, Wikimedia Commons

City trees, which have to battle pollution, poor soil, poor drainage, insufficient soil volume, salt buildup, branches ripped off by tall trucks, slamming car doors and vandalism, to mention just a few inhibiting factors, have an average lifespan of only about 15 years according to one study, although another allows them 25 years.

The outlook for trees grown in home gardens and parks is much better: more or less 100 years for maples and beeches and 75 years for most oaks and spruces. Even naturally short-lived species, like paper birch and mountain ash, ought to be good for about 25 to 30 years.

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Tree owners will often go to any length to keep a declining tree alive. Photo: Evelyn Simak, geograph.org.uk

However, no tree lives forever. Many begin to decline as they reach the limits of their average lifespan: major branches die back and aren’t replaced, wounds no longer heal well, the trunk becomes hollow, etc. Desperate homeowners can sink a fortune into trying to keep a dying tree alive: insecticide or fungicide treatments, careful pruning, props, fertilizations, watering, etc. and yet they often continue to decline.

And trees sometimes die or decline well before they should. Just like some people die young, so do some trees. That’s just life! They could be infected by a disease, have been hit by lightning, suffer root damage due to vehicles parked on their root system, etc., but most often, there is no clear explanation.

Essentially, when you plant a tree, your hope and expectation is that it will live and thrive as long as you inhabit your home, but sometimes it simply doesn’t. And when you buy an older home with older trees, the chances of gradually losing some of them increase.

Now That It’s Dying

20170812A Des Blenkinsopp, geograph.org.uk

A dead tree left standing can still be useful. Photo: Des Blenkinsopp, geograph.org.uk

When a tree is dead or in serious decline, the first reaction of most homeowners is to have it removed. That’s a wise and legitimate decision if there is any danger the tree could hurt people or cause damage to property when it falls. Also when it carries a disease or insect that could spread to and kill surrounding trees (Dutch elm disease, emerald ash borer, etc.).

But what about an older tree gradually declining in the far corner of your yard, well back from the house or parked cars, or in a forested area?

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Pileated woodpecker nesting in a dead tree. Photo: Skeeze, Pixabay

Declining, dying or dead trees (snags) are a vital part of any thriving ecosystem. One third of all woodland birds nest in holes or cavities in dead trees, including woodpeckers, owls, and wood ducks. Bats (already severely threatened in many areas), flying squirrels, raccoons and many other mammals also depend on them. Birds of prey use them as lookouts and food handling points.

A host of insects and mushrooms feed on dead wood, sight unseen … and they in turn feed birds and mammals.

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Even when a tree falls, it continues to contribute enormously to its environment. Photo: Akabashi, Wikimedia Commons

Even when a dead tree falls, it contributes to the environment. As it crashes down, tearing limbs off neighboring trees, crushing smaller ones, it opens a light gap in the forest, allowing understory trees to grow and thus the the forest can renew itself. The trunk, if left to lie where it falls, slowly decomposes, feeding and hosting a wide range of animals and fungus of all sorts when it does. Plants and mosses grow on the fallen tree and some trees species even sprout there before going on to become forest giants in their turn.

Wherever possible, the ecological thing to do is leave dying and dead trees standing. And even when they fall, do move the trunk off a path or road, of course, but try to leave it nearby to gradually rot away and enrich the soil.

Where possible (again, I repeat that there are places where you can’t legitimately leave a dead tree standing), just leave the tree to die gracefully … but do think of planting a replacement!20170810F Eng Clkr-Free-Vector-Images

Trees are always wanted, dead or alive!20170810F Eng Clkr-Free-Vector-Images