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Mar 14, 201310:30 AMHomes & Gardens

All things home and garden

The Well Groomed Tree

Mar 14, 2013 - 10:30 AM
The Well Groomed Tree

Photos by Bob Carey

Hairstyles change and so do tree pruning practices. The haircut or style you sport says a lot about you and even tips folks off about your background and experience. Same goes for trees.

The storms and wild weather that has roared through our region over the past two seasons has caused a lot of people grief and been the demise of more than a few big old trees. 

Snow and ice accumulate on branches and cause them to break or topple the tree.

Rained soaked soil gives up its hold on tree roots when the wind turns spreading tree canopies into veritable sails.

Weakly attached limbs seem to spontaneously part ways with the main trunk.

It’s pretty obvious to anyone watching branches twisting in the wind that they are the cause for most of the storm related havoc caused by trees. 

Telephone poles never seem to have that problem.  So trees get pruned like telephone poles.

Is it Still a Tree?

There was certainly a time when the sight of a tree with a buzz-cut got my shorts in a twist. About the time I was a newly minted Certified Arborist, the industry had embarked on a vigorous campaign to eliminate that practice. 

In fact they went so far as to label the “buzz-cut” practice malpractice.    

While we’d like to imagine that we can bring a little bit of the forest to our front yard, the tree in your curb lawn is as different from a forest tree as your dog is from a wolf.

Well a lot of leaves have sprouted and fallen since then and my opinion about tree pruning has matured; independent of the certification people.

While we’d like to imagine that we can bring a little bit of the forest to our front yard, the tree in your curb lawn is as different from a forest tree as your dog is from a wolf. It may be an ornament, a companion, a political statement, a swing; buts it’s only superficially a tree.

Put Me on the Plan

When the wild boars of Europe became bacon factories, they lost some of the look and robust qualities of their untamed cousins. So fragile are domestic swine that veterinary needs are one of the largest costs for produces. 

Corn would cease to exist if interest from the agricultural community disappeared for some reason. Like other domestic crops, corn is pretty high maintenance. 

No matter how rugged your pooch, its chances outside the secure glow of the proverbial campfire are pretty slim. Who’d give him his distemper shots?

Superficially at least, the definition of domestication necessarily includes some kind of grooming and medical care.

And so it is with trees.

In the forest, trees are managed. 

The process is pretty destructive for the most part and consists of promoting the growth and development of select trees by destroying less desirable individuals; a kind of arbor eugenics. 

The trees we plant in our backyard (or their equivalent) area pampered individuals by comparison. And as recent events have shown, they will not do well indefinitely without some domestic intervention; the more the better.

A Cautionary Tale

Suffice to say that I’m a kind of rouge arborist. Though I would be perfectly happy to plant trees, watch them grow and plant some more, I really don’t see a problem with treating domestic trees like ornaments. Trick them out however you’d like. But domestication comes with a cost!

The trees that the birds plant sprout, grow, mature and die; sometimes across a broad sweep of time, with no intervention. The more you mess with the tree in your yard, the more you’re going to have to mess with it.

Domestication means obligation and the more domesticated things are the more time and money you’ll have to expend.

As long as a tree is healthy, the kind of pruning that turns a tree into a telephone pole will provoke a vigorous growth response. Twigs will erupt everywhere and grow with astonishing speed into lengthy whips that can quickly replace the sail you worked so hard to eliminate. 

Moreover, these new branches are attached to the tree in a very unsatisfactory way. Instead of breaking in the wind or under a load of snow, they just slip off the trunk like the glue failed.

Think about it.  You’ve seen these trees. They’re the ones that look like lollypops along the street or highway. Lots of us think they look “nice”.

Curbside Counsel

The joke in our industry is about the client who wants a maintenance free landscape. The answer is pretty much to buy a bit forest or prairie and enjoy it when you have time. 

Domestication means obligation and the more domesticated things are the more time and money you’ll have to expend.

This spring, before you plant a lawn, talk to an agronomist.

Before you install a pond, talk to a hydrologist and before you plant a tree, talk to someone who can explain what that puppy will need when it grows up.

Maybe you’ll just plant tomatoes.

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