When you plant poplar trees on a farm in New Zealand you add beauty, feed, shelter and possibly timber. Livestock performs better on well-treed properties, despite the shaded pasture growing less grass when shaded in summer.
Poplar roots spread much further than willows, and they can help to retain hill pasture slopes during storms. Land planted with these trees suffered far less damage than unplanted slopes during the 2004 storms in the lower North Island. The tall slender Lombardy poplars were imported in former years and are well known throughout New Zealand regions, and the more recently-developed types like Kawa, Crow’s Nest and the Veronese poplar are also commonly grown over the countryside, as bushier trees. Choose the most suitable type for your land from the range now available. Some are more tolerant of possum grazing and most are resistant to poplar rust disease.
Poplars are easily grown from 2 or 3-metre poles supplied by tree nurseries. These are rammed into the soil up to a metre deep during late winter. Poplars tend to grow better on lower slopes and in gullies, where they act as water pumps and can dry out a wet area within a few years. During stormy weather, poplars offer shelter and shade for livestock as well as protect hill country from slipping. They will shed their leaves as a drought develops, and these “pennies from heaven” fall to the ground and are readily eaten by stock. Any uneaten or rusted leaves soon add to the soil's organic matter, encouraging earthworms.
Poplars add beauty in spring and autumn when they colour the landscape. They can also be grown for timber. The pale wood is used in stylish kitchens and for farm gates and stockyards. Remember however that poplar trees, like others, should be managed once they are established or they can become dangerous when too big. Their brittle branches can fall in storms or gales, damaging buildings and blocking roads and tracks. Regular pruning to a reasonable height will avoid these drawbacks and supply some valuable summer fodder and firewood for winter. Some contractors operate circular saws on extending arms that neatly trim shelterbelt sides and tops – maintenance well worthwhile.