FOUR COMMON TREE TRIMMING MISTAKES
Trees in our yard are part of a larger landscape and ecosystem that cleans and cools our air, reduces noise, provides privacy, food and habitat for wildlife, and purifies our water – all very vital services in an environment of rapid urbanization and global warming.
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1. Topping: This is usually one of the most common and ugly of tree trimming mistakes. Topping involves cutting away a large section of the top of a tree’s crown, or all the leafing branches across the top of the tree. What you’re left with is a very ugly deformed tree with a severely weak branch structure. It’s often done because people think it will keep the tree small (it won’t). Instead, the growth rate of the tree increases. It grows back rapidly in an attempt to replace its missing leaf area. It needs all of its leaves so that it can manufacture food for the trunk and roots. It won’t slow down until it reaches about the same size it was before it was over trimmed. It takes, at maximum, a few years before your tree returns to near its original size. An exception to the grow-back-to-size rule comes if you damage a tree’s health so it hasn’t the strength to re-establish itself. It is, in effect, dying and will continue on a downward spiral for years.
2. Bad Timing: There are good times to trim and bad times to trim; it depends on the species, condition of the tree, and wildlife breeding season. For example, live oak trees, which retain their leaves year round are dormant in August through October. Deciduous oaks, which lose their leaves in winter, should be trimmed during winter. If a tree is already stressed, it should not be trimmed. Trimming in the heat of summer is never a good idea, especially for west-facing branches of red oaks, maples and other species that are susceptible to sun scald. Sun scald results in wounds and damage to the trunk bark that can severely damage the tree. You should always avoid trimming trees during the height of wildlife breeding season (February through August) and have your trees inspected by a qualified biologist or wildlife aware arborist before you let anyone cut the tree.
3. Over-Thinning: No more than about 15% to 20% of a mature tree’s foliage should ever be trimmed off at one time. In fact, 5%-10% is usually adequate. When you remove a trees leafy canopy, you are reducingits capacity to remove carbon and pollution from the atmosphere while taking vital food and habitat away from birds. If too much of the leafy canopy is removed the tree is unable to produce enough food for itself or structurally support itself. As a result, the tree will produce suckers and shoots to help feed itself. In addition to being unsightly, the shoots and suckers aren’t tightly secure to the tree limbs. If the tree is mature or not healthy it will not be able to recover from over-trimming.
4. Raising the Canopy Too High: Otherwise known as Lion’s tailing. Here, far too many large lower branches are removed in an effort to raise the canopy. What you end up with is a very tall bare trunk with a small amount of foliage canopy left at the top. It looks like a lion’s tail, or stalk of broccoli.