Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Top That!?! January 9, 2010

Filed under: pruning,trees — greenwalks @ 9:04 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

No wait, please don’t! Topping is a popular but damaging method of controlling a tree’s height. Certified arborists and anyone with half an iota of aesthetic sense rail against this practice, and yet it persists. Why? Ignorance, most likely.

Sadly, these young-ish trees in my neighborhood, in no danger of growing into power lines or falling over onto anyone’s house, were recently topped (i.e. butchered), by “professional” gardeners no less. It makes me so sad and angry to see them when I pass by, to think of how nice they used to look and how ridiculous they seem now.

Tree pruning disaster

Trees for the parking strip need to be carefully chosen with the site’s limitations in mind. Of course, this is true of any site, and any tree. If you don’t want a tall tree, plant a dwarf variety! You can’t just hack off the top every few years and expect it to look, and be, fine.

Tree butchery


I will freely admit that I know next to nothing about correct pruning and always make a hash of anything I try to shape. For trees, I leave it to the pros, the real ones, certified arborists who really, truly know what they’re doing!

In other tree-pruning news, did you read this squib in the New Yorker about “citizen arborists”?


13 Responses to “Top That!?!”

  1. easygardener Says:

    Yikes – That tree has been shaved rather than pruned. Some people go for drastic and infrequent pruning to save effort and in the case of local authorities… money. The aesthetics don’t seem to bother them. Sad really.

  2. Jane Says:

    I can only think the “pruners” see trees as extensions of boxwood and think trees need the same “shaping” assistance as is common from landscape mow-and-blow crews. It’s a totally screwed up aesthetic and that ignorance of appropriate tree care is so hard to see. It makes me angry and sad.
    I read once you shouldn’t top trees because “a topless tree is indecent.” Silly, but it stuck with me. I wholeheartedly endorse Plant Amnesty, who try to educate us about proper pruning techniques.

  3. Gosh, I think what you show there goes beyond “topping” that’s just plain horrible! Amazing to think that someone was probably paid to do that too…

  4. RainGardener Says:

    They do look bare don’t they. I always thought people did that to get them to bush out better. Guess I don’t know squat.

  5. Catherine Says:

    That does look bad! You should see how our neighbor just pruned his Weeping Willow. I think he’s realized that it’s far too big of a tree for his size yard (which I could’ve told him the day I saw him planting it). It is the strangest looking thing I’ve seen.

  6. Karen, I agree totally with you; I call topping for amputating, as the remaining stumps look every bit as sad as amputated human ones. Plant Amnesty has the right mission here, but the knowledge and info never seems to reach the right people…

  7. Megan Says:

    I’m with you. What I can’t understand, with these misguided cheapskates, is why they don’t just leave the trees alone entirely. What makes them feel compelled to “prune” them at all. I saw someone do this to some trees around here recently, and the trees were so offended they up and died. Of course they never took them out, they’re still there, a tribute to the bad trim job.

  8. Jen Says:

    Oh, that IS very sad looking. Why so careless? There’s been some controversial street pruning in Nyack lately. Good to know about the citizen pruners! I’ve been trying to decide what to do about my overgrown cherry tree. The certified arborists are so expensive but sometimes it’s just a necessity.

    • greenwalks Says:

      EG – Yes, shave and a haircut, from the Demon Barber of Fleet Street maybe!

      Jane – Yes, it does seem they tried to make everything the same length with no regard for the natural shape of the tree. You should see the birch tree in the same property’s back yard, it is even more of a travesty! I like the catchphrase and had meant to put in a link to Plant Amnesty but forgot. Here is is:

      Loree – Yes, not topping, more like butchery. Yes, the owner hires “gardeners,” they come without fail every two weeks and have to find something to do to keep the $$ coming, I guess. Pretty much all busywork that I’ve observed, no real gardening.

      RG – I’m sure you know more than you’re letting on, given how nice your garden looks! I suck at pruning so leave the trees for the pros. I’m sure it can be learned, but it’s an art as well as a science, and neither of those were ever my strongest subjects.

      Catherine – Don’t you wish your neighbors would ask for your gardening advice sometimes? You could have spared that poor tree its sad fate, if only you’d been given the chance!

      IG – Yes, amputation, you are so right. I have thought of anonymously leaving a Plant Amnesty brochure on the owner’s doorstep. I don’t want to put her gardeners out of work, I’m sure they need the money, but MAN they could use some better training! They have zero aptitude where pruning is concerned, sadly.

      Megan – It’s so mystifying, isn’t it? I looked again today to be sure and there are no power lines, the branches weren’t that close to the sidewalk or street, so, why???? I imagine they will die. There is one empty planter box there already, probably from a previous bad pruning-related tree death. So sad.

      Jen – Talk to some arborists. maybe you can find someone good who doesn’t charge a fortune? Someone with good training but just out of hort school and trying to establish their business? Get referrals if you can, to make sure they’re not butchers! Cherries often have pests and diseases so a good arborist can tell you if it’s worth rehabbing. Good luck!

      Bonnie –

      Wow, that’s quite a story about the mulberries! So dispiriting to see that kind of devastation. Yes, I have seen pollarding before and in fact am working up the nerve to do it to my red twig dogwood here in a few weeks, but although I don’t know the tree variety that I showed here, I’m pretty sure that the pruning was not done with any real plan. Just basing that one previous horrors inflicted on other trees at the same property, by the same “gardeners.”

  9. Bonnie Story Says:

    That’s dreadful. I think what they are trying to do is called “pollarding”. It’s a traditional type of pruning that is done with specific kinds of trees to encourage a full crown of explosive new foliage every year, then it gets trimmed back, then again and so on.

    To pull that off, you have to use a tree that is specifically excited by that kind of handling!! Even with a kind of tree that is OK with being pollarded, if it’s done wrong or at the wrong time, the tree will die.

    Case in point: Fruitless Mulberry. That is a tree that really does well with pollarding. The cut ends of the big branches will heal over into rounded nubs that look something like new stag’s horns… then the new twigs and foliage for that year explodes out of the nubs in all directions, by the end of the growing season you can’t see the nubby rounded branch ends at all, through all the bright thick new annual foliage.

    It’s actually very handsome with the Fruitless Mulberries because the brand-new growth is much prettier than the foliage that comes from the established wood/growth. The leaves are really different on the brand-new twigs that burst annually from the trimmed-back nub-end branch. So if it’s done very properly with the right kind of tree, there is a time and place for it. It’s a very formal effect and not suited for casual gardens, think instead of a Victorian allee garden with a big fountain at the end, etc. What-evah!

    Anyway, I used to live in a neighborhood with many big, old Fruitless Mulberries around an apartment building that were maintained nicely for decades with careful pollarding. Until one year, when the building management changed and the new gardeners hacked the big branches back way, way down past the rounded healed-over old nub ends where the annual new growth springs from on a pollarded tree – and several of the nice big old trees just died immediately on the spot. I was super pissed off, called and complained… It was so, so, so sad and really changed the complexion of the neighborhood. The apartments lost a lot of shade too. It was a **total bummer**.

    And of course, the tragic dead trees were just left there, standing jagged and dead for a few years and that was depressing as hell. One year the top of a dead tree fell on a guy’s car and then they took them all down. Just one more pavement “heat island” for that town. *GROAN*. Well so ends my tale of bad pollarding.

    The trees in your pic just might survive, IF they are a variety that will respond properly to pollarding – I can’t tell what kind they are. We shall see. I agree that they should have been just left the eff alone!!! Sheesh. — Bonnie

  10. Bonnie Story Says:

    Another note – On second look at the photo – I don’t think they had any idea what they were doing with that hack job – the way they left a big fat mess of crossing branches in there just says it all. YUK!!!! I’m kind of grumpy today apparently!! Grrr :^(

  11. Pruning is always fodder for arguments around here. I am of the “hands off” school, but R has proved me wrong many times with trees that split or break for lack of proper pruning…and the fruit trees gotta have it. I always hated camellias until I saw those in the Portland Japanese Garden, pruned into elegant silhouettes with artful swathes of leaves and flowers at the very top. As with so many things, there is pruning as a hatchet job, and then there is pruning as an art form.

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