Crimes Against Horticulture: Dead Endings

Last year at this time, I alerted the community to the horrendous viburnum shear job I saw at an area business. Now, I would like to alert the community to another crime against horticulture: really bad hack jobs.

This is the time of year for earnest winter pruning. Wellfield staff are engaged in moving through trees and shrubs to accomplish several tasks associated with winter pruning objectives. Many of our trees are young and are still receiving formative pruning to better improve branch structure in the future. We prune as much to improve light filtration, air circulation and appearance as to remove deadwood, downsize some plants already crowding their space or stimulate growth in a few instances.

One of my biggest pruning pet peeves is when people improperly locate their cuts. Instead of cutting a branch just outside the branch collar, the swollen base where branch meets trunk, people are removing branches leaving a long stub.

Depending on the size and age of the branch, it will never sprout again from the cut location, but instead will die off, leaving a place for disease to enter because the tree could not heal over the wound properly. It also becomes an eyesore. The tree loses its natural form in favor of a course, blunt appearance. In some cases the tree will respond with even more shoots in the same location as the previous stubs, which then are cut badly with the resultant mass of ugly cuts. You will not be risking life and limb to cut back to the right location, so go ahead.

The other thing that drives me absolutely bonkers, even more than stubs, are those individuals who cut off the ends of their large diameter trees and limbs, most often in an effort to keep a large tree within the bounds they have in mind for it. Topping a tree in such a fashion is rarely a good idea.

Not only will the natural form of the tree never be seen again, but this technique can actually produce weak wood with a whole new set of problems. There is a time and place for pollarding a tree, a pruning process similar to topping, and this is not it. Also, only certain tree species respond to pollarding effectively.

Okay, now that you know better, do better. Go and perform pruning jobs that make the cut.

Josh Steffen, Horticulture and Facilities Manager


4 comments

  1. GADS! As an arborist, I find that almost all problems with trees in urban situations are caused by those who are supposed to be taking care of them. ‘Gardeners’ ruin more trees than anyone or any disease.

    • Ha, so true. We’re considering an October ‘Tree-Pruning Horror Show’-type of fun program.. gathering photos we take (or that are submitted) and using them as ‘educational opportunities’! (while protecting the identities of the property owners, of course! 😉


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