Before and after: A couple of December’s pruning jobs

Mr. B told me he had concerns about his big silver maple. It had a big leader that grew toward his house, and another over the neighbor’s yard. He wondered if we could make it less threatening. He even asked if I’d suggest topping it.

I went to see the tree, and his neighborhood was marred with many examples of bad pruning, like this “topped” silver maple a few houses away.

topped silver maple

Topped silver maple – DON’T DO THIS

Maybe that’s where he got the “topping” idea.  Anyway, I explained to him why topping would be counterproductive to his goal of keeping the tree safe and healthy.  (see April 2, 2010 if you want to read more about THAT). Then I described how I could reduce those leaders by 25% without making any heading (topping) (internodal) cuts. Mr. B liked that suggestion, so that is what we did.

Here’s the tree when we were setting up the climbing ropes:

We pruned a LOT of wood from this tree – those leaders were reduced by at least ¼.  But the type of pruning wounds we made are not significant injuries. The tree will compartmentalize them way better than if they’d  been heading cuts. And there are plenty of auxin (plant hormone) producing tips left in place to inhibit excessive re-sprouting.

Elaine, from Oaks, called me the week before Christmas to ask if I could prune her two cryptomeria (Japanese cedar) trees.  Both trees, and an arborvita, were very close to the house, with branches rubbing on the roof and gutters.  Nice old house.  Nice old trees.  Although the both cryptomeria had a lot of dead branches, possibly an indication of past health struggles, they were in stable condition and did not seem to be facing imminent decline.  And they add a lot to the curb appeal of the house (in my tree-biased opinion!)

We pruned them away from the roof, cleared out the dead wood, and gave them a good inspection to make sure they were not hosting and Japanese cedar longhorn beetles, ANOTHER imported pest new to our area.  (They were clean of pests – just a few sapsucker holes near the top).

A beautiful clear-blue December sky helped me get these nice before-and-after photos of the pruning job!





I was asked to “top” a tree

On Monday I got a call from a man who wanted me to give him a price to prune a tree.  He told me on the phone that he would want me to cut a considerable amount off of the top.  Yesterday I went to look at the tree.  It was the only tree in the back yard, and would have been a very nice tree except that it had obviously been “topped” about 5 years ago.

topped tree

Can you see where the topping cuts were made?

The crown of the tree was made up of clusters of long, weakly attached sprouts as the result of the trees’ growth response to the previous incorrect pruning.

What I now need to explain to him (he wasn’t  home at the time of my visit) is that cutting the top off of his tree again will not achieve anything positive for him.

If he doesn’t want the tree to become “too big” and threatening to his safety, re-topping the tree would actually be completely counterproductive to his goal.  Because what happens when a tree is wounded this way is that (if it’s healthy and has the necessary stored energy) it produces vigorous new growth.  This tree has grown approximately 15 feet in the last 5 years.  Normal annual growth for this species (it’s a sugar maple) is about 6 inches.  If NOTHING had been done 5 years ago, it wouldn’t be any bigger (maybe even not as big) as it is now.  And all that new vigorous sprout growth is less sturdy that the natural branching structure would have been – the point of attachment of each sprout is made up of only 5 growth rings, plus there is a column of internal decay below each of the old topping cuts.

The sprout attachments are weak, tight-angle crotches.

Now, after 5 years the trees growth rate is becoming closer to normal.  I could do some corrective pruning – cut away the dead stubs, thin the sprouts to remove the excess and  retain the stronger ones, and train for  future growth  that will produce the strongest possible branch structure.  This will be a pretty lot of work, but it would be worth doing – it’s a young, vigorous tree without any other problems, and there is plenty of space for it to grow to its natural size.  The tree would  have needed  way less work (at way less cost!) if all it needed now was normal maintenance pruning.  But  it will need nothing more than a little minor pruning every few years once we take care of the corrective work.

But first I have to explain all this to the customer and convince him not to just repeat the previous mistake.

TOPPING IS MALPRACTICE!  Those who perform it are either ignorant of tree biology, or unscrupulous!

P.S. – The next time we do a removal of a tree that was damaged by topping I’ll post some autopsy pictures.