It’s not easy being a plantsman at this time of the year. Instead of enjoying the colour of early-blooming bulbs, seeing the first buds unfurl on deciduous trees and shrubs or watching the daily progress of emerging perennials what do I see? I focus on the bad pruning inflicted upon innocent trees.
I wouldn’t be too far wrong if I said that it’s becoming an epidemic. Everywhere I look I see trees that are savagely topped with no regard for their natural shape. I see stubs that are several inches away from the nearest bud and I know that there will be dieback in the canopy of that tree. Trees are split in two to allow wires to pass through their crowns, or they have so much growth removed on one side to keep it away from the street or buildings that they are terribly unbalanced.
Perhaps I should just keep my head down and look at the snowdrops and the crocus. But I can’t keep from looking up and shaking my head at the damage created. Some of it stems from a lack of knowledge about proper pruning of trees, but I think most of the carnage occurs because of poor tree selection at the beginning.
Trees are being pruned to fit into the area they were chosen for and this philosophy is completely at odds with the long-term health of the tree. Instead of being used to contribute to the well-being of the tree, pruning is used as a means to overcome the fact that the wrong tree was planted in the first place.
I don’t think anyone would argue that trees are the most important aspect of any landscape, whether it’s your home, a multi-family development or a commercial property. Well-chosen trees add so much to the value and appeal of any landscape and they contribute 365 days of the year.
If they’re so important why are so many bad choices made? After twenty years of helping people choose trees I am convinced that trees and humans live on different planets. What we want trees to do for us and what trees actually do are completely dissimilar.
Humans would like trees to grow very quickly until they are big enough, ideally within about a year or two, and then stop growing. Trees continue to grow for many years, even decades. We want them to produce flowers that last for months, with no insects and no mess from fallen petals or berries. Trees which do flower do so for a reason, but the blooms are not designed to last. Flowers tend to attract insects and the petals fall off. Flowers lead to fruit on some trees, which can attract even more insects.
Humans enjoy having trees close by so they can enjoy their various attributes, but we don’t want the trees to damage our homes, our driveways, sidewalks or septic tanks. Trees don’t care about such mundane matters, they just want to grow without regard for the limitations that arise because they’ve been planted in the wrong location.
A well-chosen tree will never produce even a moment’s regret. But, choose poorly and the repercussions will continue to haunt not only the property owner, but this garden column writer.