Never give your tree a crew cut, and other words of warning

These live oaks have been severely overlifted and too many inner branches have been removed making them top-heavy. Doug Caldwell

These live oaks have been severely overlifted and too many inner branches have been removed making them top-heavy. Doug Caldwell

Learn how to do it right. There will be a tree removal demonstration and proper pruning of hardwoods and palm trees demonstrations conducted by Doug Caldwell and Ian Orlikoff of Signature Tree Service at the UF/IFAS Collier County Extension Office, 14700 Immokalee Road on Monday, Nov. 30, from 10 a.m. to noon. The class is free.

Please call 353-4244 to register as space is limited.

It is very important to watch your pruning technique in Collier County. “Hat-racked” (topping) and “over-lifting” (too many bottom branches removed and “gutting” or lion’s-tailing pruning styles are considered arboricultural malpractice and rightfully so. The Collier County Land Development Code, Ordinance No. 91-102, is armed with teeth and is based on sound knowledge from arboricultural experts within the industry and university systems.

Fines for bad pruning are not necessarily leveled at the guy who did the work, but at the homeowner who may not understand what good pruning is. This article is a quick overview of some of the common mistakes that I see in our area:

Hat-racking is the same as stubbing a branch, a willy-nilly cutting of branches, without thinking where the new leader will develop. For a plant to “heal” or compartmentalize the pruning wound, the cut needs to be made at a point where the plant tissue can grow over or engulf the injury. This is not possible when a stem is cut far from a secondary branch or bud. The plant tissue is not able to grow over the stub. It may attempt to grow over the cut stub and result in a weak flap that will break out easily.

Or it may result in a domino effect, that is, the cut end will decay, which progresses to internal twig rot, which will lead to trunk rot, which will result in an unstable or sickly tree that will be unsightly. Poorly placed cuts will also lead to a flush of competing laterals sprouting into an unnatural-looking witch’s-broom appearance. Depending on the tree species and the desired look, there should be one dominant leader — one main trunk.

Our Collier County Code is anchored in the American National Standard Institute’s, ANSI A300-2001, “Standard Practices for Trees and Other Woody Plant Maintenance,”guidelines (see the Florida ISA chapter’s Web site to order the standards for $20: www.floridaisa.org/books.php)

Some ANSI pruning standard practices are:

n “Not more than 25 percent of the foliage on a mature tree should be removed within a growing season.” Note: I suspect that this is not as critical in Southwest Florida with the longer growing season. See section 5.5.3.

n “When a branch is cut back to a lateral, not more than 25 percent of its leaf surface should be removed. The remaining lateral should be large enough to assume apical dominance.” In other words, cutting back to a new leader will suppress (a hormonal thing) excessive sprouting. Hat-racking will result in a mess of new buds sprouting and a weaker tree structure.

n “Thinning should result in an even distribution of branches on individual limbs and throughout the crown.” Ignoring this concept leads to over-lifting and lion’s-tailing. Lion’s-tailing refers to the removal of the inner branches of a major limb. Lion’s-tailing puts the weight load on the ends of the branches, making branches more prone to break-outs in high winds.

Code enforcement will take into account the species of tree, the site limitations (parking, traffic or building clearance) and other extenuating circumstances in deciding if an infraction has occurred. A tree that has been neglected for many years may require several years of pruning to reshape it and some drastic cuts may be required. For example, live oaks have multiple leaders and crossing branches and may require a lot of pruning. It is better to train them right when they are young to avoid the severe pruning consequences later.

The spirit of the ordinance is to protect the quantity and quality of our urban and rural forests. Besides a significant cooling affect, tree canopies help reduce erosion by intercepting the driving force of the rain and creating a gentler rainfall. The root system holds the soil in place and minimizes erosion effects.

Good pruning is also something of an art, as with a good haircut, the end result does not jump out at you. The finished product should be a subtle and natural looking difference. At first glance, the pruning work should go unnoticed.

The bottom line is communication. Make sure you convey (in writing) what you want and what you don’t want. Don’t assume that the worker with the saw knows what he is doing; even if they or their boss is a certified arborist, misunderstandings can occur.

Certified arborists are listed at the ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) Web site:

http://www.isa-arbor.com/findArborist/findarborist.aspx

For more information/literature contact the extension office. Also contact the Collier County Code Enforcement (403-2413) for code literature or enforcement details. Ed Gilman of the University of Florida has an excellent Web site:

http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/pruning.shtml

Also see Pruning Landscape Trees and Shrubs, Circular 853, at:

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/MG087

Doug Caldwell, Ph.D., is the commercial landscape horticulture extension agent and landscape entomologist with the University of Florida Collier County Extension Service. Phone, 353-4244 x203, or e-mail: dougbug@ufl.edu

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