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Saturday, January 29, 2011

How to Butcher a Tree

There's a right way to prune a tree and there's definitely many wrong ways to prune a tree. It's heartbreaking to see how the utilities company destroyed a number of my pine trees this week through wanton disregard for correct pruning practice. In an effort to free power lines from potential branch encroachment, they lopped off all of the tree tops, effectively eliminating any future vertical growth.


I didn't plant these trees. They were either planted or selectively thinned by the person who lived here a few decades ago. They now stand, in their abused state, as an example of what can happen if you don't anticipate future growth of any plant you choose to add to your landscape. I have to assume that the power lines were installed when the house was built. The trees were placed as a visual and physical border separating the front yard from the road about the same time, beneath the power lines.

Though not directly under the lines, their growth pattern put them close. After many years with no problems and many years when the utilities company saw no issues, some of the upper branches were growing within a few feet of live, electric lines. When I saw the tree-cutting crew arrive, I assumed they would only cut off the branches that might pose problems. Of course you know what happens when you assume. They sheared off the top third of the trees; I suspect that is company policy when it comes to clearing lines.


Before.
Now the tops are gone.
I suppose what annoys me the most is that I understand how trees grow and assumed that a "trained" tree-cutting crew also knew how trees grow (there's that word again). With selective and appropriate pruning the lines could be cleared of any possible branch problems and the trees would have retained their ability to grow and look like trees. Now they're hacked to the point that I will have to remove many of them.

As you know, trees grow vertically. Pine trees grow with a central leader. That's the single trunk from which all of the branches spread. Occasionally you might see a tree with another leader challenging for supremacy, but the typical pattern is one central trunk. That pinnacle grows higher every year. As it climbs, new buds and new branches appear and add to the structure.

Older branches, closer to the base, continue to thicken and grow. The interesting point about branches is that they'll always stay in the same spot. A branch that is three feet off the ground will always be three feet off the ground. A tree like a pine achieves its conical shape because the older branches at the bottom spread out laterally as they grow bigger. The new branches at the top are smaller and closer to the main trunk. In time they will get thicker and longer and add to the conical shape for newer, smaller branches above.

If you cut off the pine's central leader, this growth cycle is destroyed. No new vertical growth will happen and no new branches will appear. The lower branches will continue to get bigger and eventually the tree will look like a big, squat cylinder. The branches at the top will spread horizontally at about the same distance as the lower ones. Gone is the classic conical pine tree.

The tree decapitated.

The primary lesson here, and one that I've written about before, is that you need to anticipate the future when you plant. I planted two fruit trees about 30 feet apart last year. They look odd, these two small trees standing, seemingly, all by themselves in the expanse of yard. But these are full size apple and cherry trees that should each have a spread of about 25 feet when fully grown, nearly 15 feet on each side. When viewed in that context, these trees will be nearly bumping up to each other many years from now.

I have a single Golden Rain Tree standing by itself in the middle of the field. When it reaches a potential 40-feet height and 30-feet spread, it will visually dominate the area. I have the patience to wait for that and the vision to plan for it.

From a single mint plant that may potentially overrun your garden to a few raspberry canes that may do the same, you need to think about a plant's growth pattern when selecting the best location. Typical vegetable gardens are easy because most of the plants will be gone at the end of the season; you only need to be concerned about the ones that will survive the winter. For perennial plants, bushes, hedges, and trees, you need to think about how they'll look in a year, in two, in five, and beyond that.

Don't plant young trees close together unless you intend on thinning them out as they grow. Don't plant trees next to your house or near power lines or other structures, unless you want to worry about how to remove them when they get too big. Don't plant trees in your garden unless you have a plan for the shade that will inevitably expand each year.

I'm trying to decide what to do with my front yard now that the trees are a macabre spectacle. They really do need to come down and be put out of their misery. Any replacement trees need to be low-growing ones. I'll probably go with shrubs and bushes, in addition to ones I already have planted. With the trees gone there will be enough sun for colorful perennials to highlight the entry drive. The whole personality of the front entrance will be different and offer another blank palette for my gardening desires.

If given the choice, I would prefer the trees not to have been assaulted. In our forested neighborhood, they looked very natural. Lack of trees is more unnatural. If you have a choice, plant carefully. If you don't, you may be victim of a tree-maiming crew in the future.
There's a right way to prune a tree and there's definitely many wrong ways to prune a tree. It's heartbreaking to see how the utilities company destroyed a number of my pine trees this week through wanton disregard for correct pruning practice. In an effort to free power lines from potential branch encroachment, they lopped off all of the tree tops, effectively eliminating any future vertical growth.


I didn't plant these trees. They were either planted or selectively thinned by the person who lived here a few decades ago. They now stand, in their abused state, as an example of what can happen if you don't anticipate future growth of any plant you choose to add to your landscape. I have to assume that the power lines were installed when the house was built. The trees were placed as a visual and physical border separating the front yard from the road about the same time, beneath the power lines.

Though not directly under the lines, their growth pattern put them close. After many years with no problems and many years when the utilities company saw no issues, some of the upper branches were growing within a few feet of live, electric lines. When I saw the tree-cutting crew arrive, I assumed they would only cut off the branches that might pose problems. Of course you know what happens when you assume. They sheared off the top third of the trees; I suspect that is company policy when it comes to clearing lines.


Before.
Now the tops are gone.
I suppose what annoys me the most is that I understand how trees grow and assumed that a "trained" tree-cutting crew also knew how trees grow (there's that word again). With selective and appropriate pruning the lines could be cleared of any possible branch problems and the trees would have retained their ability to grow and look like trees. Now they're hacked to the point that I will have to remove many of them.

As you know, trees grow vertically. Pine trees grow with a central leader. That's the single trunk from which all of the branches spread. Occasionally you might see a tree with another leader challenging for supremacy, but the typical pattern is one central trunk. That pinnacle grows higher every year. As it climbs, new buds and new branches appear and add to the structure.

Older branches, closer to the base, continue to thicken and grow. The interesting point about branches is that they'll always stay in the same spot. A branch that is three feet off the ground will always be three feet off the ground. A tree like a pine achieves its conical shape because the older branches at the bottom spread out laterally as they grow bigger. The new branches at the top are smaller and closer to the main trunk. In time they will get thicker and longer and add to the conical shape for newer, smaller branches above.

If you cut off the pine's central leader, this growth cycle is destroyed. No new vertical growth will happen and no new branches will appear. The lower branches will continue to get bigger and eventually the tree will look like a big, squat cylinder. The branches at the top will spread horizontally at about the same distance as the lower ones. Gone is the classic conical pine tree.

The tree decapitated.

The primary lesson here, and one that I've written about before, is that you need to anticipate the future when you plant. I planted two fruit trees about 30 feet apart last year. They look odd, these two small trees standing, seemingly, all by themselves in the expanse of yard. But these are full size apple and cherry trees that should each have a spread of about 25 feet when fully grown, nearly 15 feet on each side. When viewed in that context, these trees will be nearly bumping up to each other many years from now.

I have a single Golden Rain Tree standing by itself in the middle of the field. When it reaches a potential 40-feet height and 30-feet spread, it will visually dominate the area. I have the patience to wait for that and the vision to plan for it.

From a single mint plant that may potentially overrun your garden to a few raspberry canes that may do the same, you need to think about a plant's growth pattern when selecting the best location. Typical vegetable gardens are easy because most of the plants will be gone at the end of the season; you only need to be concerned about the ones that will survive the winter. For perennial plants, bushes, hedges, and trees, you need to think about how they'll look in a year, in two, in five, and beyond that.

Don't plant young trees close together unless you intend on thinning them out as they grow. Don't plant trees next to your house or near power lines or other structures, unless you want to worry about how to remove them when they get too big. Don't plant trees in your garden unless you have a plan for the shade that will inevitably expand each year.

I'm trying to decide what to do with my front yard now that the trees are a macabre spectacle. They really do need to come down and be put out of their misery. Any replacement trees need to be low-growing ones. I'll probably go with shrubs and bushes, in addition to ones I already have planted. With the trees gone there will be enough sun for colorful perennials to highlight the entry drive. The whole personality of the front entrance will be different and offer another blank palette for my gardening desires.

If given the choice, I would prefer the trees not to have been assaulted. In our forested neighborhood, they looked very natural. Lack of trees is more unnatural. If you have a choice, plant carefully. If you don't, you may be victim of a tree-maiming crew in the future.

1 comment:

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