Stately poplar trees are native to the United States and can be found in flood plains and along rivers and streams. They grow rapidly, making them a popular choice for privacy screens. However, they are prone to some problems, which should be considered carefully before planting them in a backyard.
Poplars are started from bare root nursery stock or container plants or may sucker from a mother tree. They grow quickly, as much as 6 to 9 feet per year, and reach 100 feet high. Poplars may live as long as 100 years, although most live only 25 to 30 years.
Poplars have an elegant, tall, narrow form. They are often grown in a row along fences and roads as a windbreak or privacy screen. Over 30 varieties exist. Lombardy and Frimley are two of the most well-known.
Poplars aren't picky about soil, but do need full sun and plenty of water. They grow natively in flood plains and stream beds, so duplicating those conditions will benefit them. An annual application of 10-10-10 fertilizer keeps them healthy.
Poplars, particularly Lombardy, are not recommended as a landscaping plant, according to North Dakota State University Extension Service, for several reasons. They are prone to diseases, such as leaf spot and canker, and are known for having weak wood. Especially in areas with bitter winters and high winds, they are prone to limb fall. Most are short-lived. In addition, the roots are very invasive and damage pipes and septic systems. Their shallow roots create protrusions in yards, making mowing difficult. Suckering is a major problem with these trees, as well. Homeowners who plant one tree may soon have a small forest.
Lombardy poplars can be planted in rural settings at the edge of fields and along roads, rather than in suburban lots. Tower poplar and European aspen are two poplar varieties recommended by the North Dakota State University Extension Service for home use because they have fewer problems and live longer.