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Pruning

Why pollarding trees gives me a rash

By | Arborist Insights, Pruning | No Comments

I’m kidding, of course, I don’t suffer from rashes after tree pruning. But I do find pollarding too forced and ugly immediately after. In summer, when the tree crowns are full of foliage the trees look fine.

Incredibly, I’ve been an ISA certified arborist since 2006 but last week was my first-ever pollarding session. Since our site was all snowy, it was a great time to prune trees.

Why pollarding?

So why do we resort to pollarding? In the very old days, people understood that cutting down all of their trees for firewood was short-sighted. So instead they pollarded their trees and then used the wood. But times have changed.

Now we pollard trees to keep them at a smaller size then they would otherwise reach. It makes sense at our site where three London plane trees (Platanus x acerifolia) are located close to the pool. See the picture below taken from my Kindle e-book: Common Strata Plants: A Guide for West Coast Landscapers, available for download from Amazon.

 

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Platanus x acerifolia

 

Pollarding involves the removal of the upper branches of a tree which then promotes a dense head of foliage and branches. It just looks like hell right after you do it. In a perfect world, the London plane trees could be let go to grow as big as they wished. I wish!

The trick, then, is to pick a height and pollard the trees annually. The actual work is very simple because you’re simply beheading skinny branches that shot up from the previous pruning cuts. Staying safe while you prune is more demanding.

My arborist technician apprentice climbed the tree while I stayed on the ground and used a ladder with pole pruners. Once in a while I would steal a big-brother glance at my eager apprentice to make sure his ropes were still supporting him.

 

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My work in progress. The gnarly ends of the branches don’t exactly inspire me.

 

Timing

Late winter or early spring are best for pollarding. One exception are maple (Acer species) which bleed sap when cut at these times. The pruning rule for maples is before Christmas.

If you have trees that are outgrowing their space and you don’t want to lose them or can’t afford to replace them, then by all means pollard your trees annually. The trees look horrific immediately after pruning but in summer they’re fine. Personally, I would prefer not to pollard anything.

 

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Things to consider before you “skirt” Thuja plicata trees

By | Pruning | No Comments

Raising tree crowns by “skirting” is a common pruning job. It basically means removing the lowest branches so the crown above looks raised up. This is usually necessary when cedar trees (Thuja plicata) haven’t been pruned for a while.

Two potential problems

When you do this kind of work, don’t forget about two common pitfalls. One is not stopping and removing too many branches so that the tree looks like a lollipop. It’s unnatural and should be avoided. It’s a common problem with other tree species, not just Thuja plicata. So by all means, raise up the tree crown but know when to stop.

Two, privacy. Unless you know the site well and your directions are very specific, don’t forget to consider people’s privacy.

True story

I wish it wasn’t true but I’ve heard of a gung-ho landscaper who was servicing a new site for the first time. He walked by a double line of Thuja plicata trees separated by a wooden fence. At one corner the trees were especially low so he skirted them right up. Great. Except the owner of the unit loved every single branch and he was livid. His comments can’t be printed in a clean, family blog like mine. Suffice it to say that he failed to express himself intelligently.

But I feel for him a little bit. The tree was fine the way it was and now he has the view of a wooden fence. So when you take over a new site, get to know it well first.

Privacy

Recently we made our way around a large complex that had been neglected for many seasons. I noticed several low-hanging Thuja plicata branches and almost reached for my trusted Japanese hand-saw.

Of course, I am a Red Seal professional with many seasons under my belt. My instinct told me that the low-hanging branches were probably providing a privacy screen for the residents. If I had removed the branches they would be looking at a residential tower and its car ramp. So unless I hear otherwise from the strata council, the low hanging branches will stay. Always consider privacy issues.

Residential request

It’s very easy when your clients actually request the crown raising. In these cases it’s just a matter of knowing when to stop. And in this one residential example, the client clearly  told me to “rescue” her overwhelmed patio and plants.

So I made nice cuts until all Pieris japonica, Rhododendron and Yucca plants were no longer obstructed by the cedar trees. Remember to make three-point cuts where the weight is taken off first and then the cut completed nicely. Cedar branches are heavy.

The pruning also solved the same problem for her patio where she entertains guests in summer. She was absolutely thrilled to get some breathing room on her back patio. And happy clients are the best clients.

 

 

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Before pruning, the Pieris and Yucca plants were covered by cedar branches.

 

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Not only are the cedar branches off the plants, the patio is also unobstructed.

 

Raising Thuja plicata tree crowns is an easy pruning job but always consider owner privacy issues and know when to stop.

Camellia japonica pruning: timing and technique

By | Plant Species Information, Pruning | No Comments

I heard recently about a case where one landscape maintenance foreman pruned a lot of stuff on his site. Including Camellia japonica full of flower buds. The owner loves her Camellia and she was extremely unhappy about losing so many buds to needless pruning. Oops.

 

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Camellia japonica

 

 

Pruning involves correct technique and timing. Normally we use hand snips or power shears and both are fairly easy to use. I prefer to use hand snips whenever possible because they are quiet.

Timing depends on the specific shrub or tree in question and thus requires plant-specific knowledge. That is both exciting and scary. All top horticulture professionals have a lot of plant-specific knowledge which takes time and experience to acquire.

December request

Then this week I helped with the last service of the season at a Port Coquitlam site. And there it was again. Another Camellia japonica and a passionate owner used to enjoying her flower show. And I was ready.

The timing of the request was way off. December is not the right time to prune Camellia japonicas. The only thing I really power shear in December is cedar hedges (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’).

The proper pruning time for Camellia japonica is in spring, right before bud break, according to my Timber Press book “Essential pruning techniques”.

Camellias don’t really need pruning but this specimen had several shoots sticking up and the owner wanted them pruned. But only those shoots. So I hand snipped all of the shoots down to a bud. It was easy and it didn’t take much time. Power shearing would have been slightly faster but the shredding that occurs is unsightly. Hand snipping works perfectly in this case.

 

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The task was to remove the long top shoots which don’t sport any buds. I made the cuts down to the first bud I encountered.

 

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This is the after shot. The long shoots are gone and very few buds were lost in the operation. Any additional pruning will happen in spring, just before bud break.

 

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Camellia flowers are stunning and can be cut for home vases. You can see why owners would get upset over losing this kind of show.

 

Conclusion

Remember to pick-up plant-specific knowledge so not everything on your site or garden is power sheared at one time. Camellia japonica should be pruned in spring, just before bud break; if you must prune it.

Don’t be shy with Roses

By | Pruning, Species | No Comments

Let me start this blog post by saying that I’m not an expert on roses. I know how to snip them and I know it’s usually done in February. Of course, there many rose varieties and lots of exceptions but on my commercial site I didn’t worry.

When I took the site over there was a lot of work to catch up on before lawn care started in the spring. Weeds were overdue and I also gave the lawns a nice, sharp blade edge.

By far the ugliest aspect of this commercial landscape were the roses. Since it was still technically winter it was easy to see the tangled mess inside the individual rose bushes. This is what happens when you quickly power shear the roses, season after season. Eventually, without good hand-pruning, the dead brown canes accumulate. Obviously, power shearing is quick and convenient. But I had time…..I was in charge now.

Dead canes

 

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This is a tangled mess full of dead canes oak leaves.

 

You will note the many brown dead canes. The dead is pruned out first. Then we move on to ugly twisted canes that rub or touch the ground. This pruning requires faith. Trust in your own work. By spring you will be rewarded.

 

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That’s much better.

 

 

This is the look we should aim for with nice canes pointing outward without crossing or rubbing each other. It looks too harsh at first. Just wait for summer. The rose plants push their available resources into the remaining canes. So for now we wait for the buds to swell and pop.

 

Growth and buds

 

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It’s all green and we have lots of buds. It’s just a matter of time.

 

See, everything is cool. We have new growth and flower buds. Correctly missing is the useless dead wood.

Summer success

 

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Summer success! It almost makes you forget the harsh look from winter.

 

Take a look at the second picture again. The one that made you cringe because it looked too harsh. Except it wasn’t. I would call this summer success. I knew it would work out because I have done it before. So don’t be shy, have some fun with your roses next February 2018 and watch them go.

The roses require some summer maintenance as the flowers fade. You can clip off the spent rose buds but be careful. Always look for upcoming rose flowers. Keep those on unless you’re pruning for shape. It’s OK to lose some flowers when a long cane reaches into the road for example.

 

 

How renovation pruning saved Escallonias

By | Pruning | No Comments

It’s been hot for weeks now in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia but this blog will take you back to last winter. The last winter we went through was the harshest in the last 30+ years. Consequently, many plants didn’t survive, namely Ceanothus and Choisya.

So, many strata sites required heavy plant editing. We had to carry out the dead to make room for new plants; budgets allowing, of course. And budgets are tight. Many strata councils have many projects on the go and replacing dead plants probably wasn’t in the budget. One strata owner told me that his own building spent $21,000 just on snow removal last year. It’s a good idea for strata councils to budget for snow removal because global warming is bringing lots of changes.

 

Carnage

Walking through one particular site we had to toss many Ceanothus thyrsiflorus (California lilac). They are already marginal in the Vancouver area and one especially crazy winter killed them.

Choisya ternata also got hammered. Since residents were alarmed we had to toss many of these brown hedges. And quickly.

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Escallonias

Then we reached many Escallonias beat up by snow and low temperatures. So what do you with this mess? Complete removal is one obvious choice but it would leave a huge hole. If you take a good look you will see growth at ground level. With life at ground level this calls for renovation pruning.

Step 1
First we take out power shears and we remove as much dead as we can. It’s harsh on the blades but it saves time on hand pruning later.

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Power shear dead stems.

Step 2
We hand snip all remaining dead stems above the ground level green growth. See how the “new” hedge emerges.

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Step 3
Last we do a nice clean-up and blow the area.

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Now let’s take a look at the finished renovated Escallonias. We saved the hedge from complete obliteration, thereby saving the strata council money. Passersby won’t even notice that the plants are down by half. I expect them to grow again and flower as if nothing happened. Hopefully, this coming winter will be gentle with them.

I have also done renovation pruning on rhododendrons.

Obstruction in the landscape

By | landscape maintenance, Pruning, Strata Maintenance | No Comments

Obstruction in the landscape is a well-known theme but it’s often missed or ignored. Especially by newer crew leaders and workers. So let’s examine some cases of obstruction and learn from them.

 

Spring rains

This is what happens after spring rains and early season growth. All of a sudden we have obstruction everywhere. Immediate corrective action is required by people’s front doors.

 

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Walkways

It happens all the time. Your new worker concentrates on his lawns and in his rush to complete the work places his tarps on walkways. Then a senior citizen pulls up in a motorized scooter and we have a problem. If you think senior citizens aren’t capable to angry outbursts and middle finger salutes, think again. Never block walkways.

 

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This isn’t the best place for a tarp.

 

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Much better and stress-free!

 

Signs

Signs exist because they have a message to convey. It’s easy for vegetation to obscure them so check your sites and take action. This is especially true for sites you have recently taken over.

 

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Much better.

 

Exits

All exits should be clear. This example is from a neglected strata site. I pruned off the offending maple tree (Acer circinatum) branches in a few minutes. The residents must have been ducking here for months.

 

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Another walkway example with Indian plum going wild.

 

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Problem solved!

 

Peonies

Peonies usually require staking and more space. I used a bit of string and two minutes.

 

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Parking stalls

Parking stalls should always be clear of any obstructions. This took one cut with my snips.

 

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Done!

 

Vehicle site lines

This one is much harder to spot. Residents driving out couldn’t clearly see other approaching vehicles so I had to prune the maples. Note that you should be able to see through Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) anyway.

 

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Dog waste

This is a most disagreeable topic but let’s not be shy. This is what it looks like on the ground for landscape maintenance workers. The ignored long grass indicates the presence of large dog waste piles. So in this case the obstruction is created by the owners.

 

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Dog waste in the open, urine soaked lawn and hidden inside shaggy islands.

 

Future obstruction

This is an interesting small yard. I once took the liberty of pruning a few branches off this Magnolia so we could get through the gate. The owner had a fit, calling us nasty names. Unjustly, I believe. She planted two Magnolias in her small yard never bothering to read the tree tags still attached to the trees. Considering the future size of these trees I fully expect this owner to beg me to prune her trees in the future. Always consider the mature size of your new trees before planting them.

 

 

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Obstruction in the landscape is a well-known theme. Train your workers to spot it and correct it.

Field sales call survival

By | Arborist Insights, Pruning | No Comments

Spring. It’s a time of renewal and, as the Tri-City News reminded me recently, it also brings out salesmen. But don’t worry, you don’t have to let them in. And you have thirty days to change your mind if your purchase is over $50. Good to know.

I was thinking about this after I had a salesman visit me in the field. The guy simply drove by my work site and saw my piles of branches. My goal for the day was to thin out Robinia pseudoacacias. So he stopped and searched out the sweaty arborist. Normally, I brush salesmen off but in this case, I was very happy to talk to him. As it turned out, he had lots of ‘toys’ in his truck.

Arborist ‘toys’

Doug pulled out a telescoping pole saw which was awesome. It’s a bit heavy but the telescoping is nice. The hand saws had me drooling. I especially liked the hand saws that attach to your leg for easy access. One day, when budget allows, I will invest in one.

Right now I am happy with my Samurai hand saw I purchased in Japan for about $35. Always get good quality steel. Having a nice, sharp saw is critical. I still remember a seminar I took at the UBC botanical garden years ago. They had an arborist doing a demonstration in a tree and his hand saw was gorgeous. Light reflected off the saw and it made a beautiful sound when it cut through the wood. I wanted one like that ever since.

Later on, the same arborist pointed out that his hard hat is worn to separate himself from landscapers. Aha! I was insulted and too shy to interrupt the demonstration. Hard hats are for safety. There are many professionals like me who are both ISA certified arborists and landscapers. Skilled, total professionals. My focus is on good quality work, not on separating myself from anybody. Remember, be so good so they can’t ignore you!

Sales details

I am very happy to plug a green salesman in a blog post. Always help others succeed. Unfortunately, many companies have go-to dealers so it’s up to the salesman to spin his magic and develop new relationships. Saws get dull and abused. You will need new ones.

Doug Cox of Calmac Saw & Supply can be reached at 604-816-6915 or calmacsaw@gmail.com. Please tell him you found him through this blog. Perhaps he can demonstrate his saws for you.

 

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Doug Cox’s beautiful saws. Always use sharp saws when you work.

 

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Katsura tree with too many leaves

By | Arborist Insights, Pruning, Trees | No Comments

“Every year this tree makes too many leaves.” That is a direct quote from the strata owner whose patio looked out on a nice Katsura tree specimen (Cercidiphyllum japonicum). I almost laughed. The tree makes too many leaves every year? Really? I talked to her politely and agreed that some thinning cuts were in order. But too many leaves? That deserved a blog post.

Thinning cuts

On a multi-stemmed tree like this one, thinning cuts are totally fine. Just pick a branch that rubs or crosses with others and remove it. You should be able to create some openings in the crown while still preserving a natural tree look. I didn’t have any trouble with this. It was easy to see crowded spots.

Just remember not to go too crazy. You can always come back next year. I made a few cuts on every tree and assessed it before taking more. And I will assess it again once the trees leaf out.

Too many leaves

This is a joke. Trees know what to do. We can’t tell them how many leaves to produce. What’s the big deal with leaves?

Trees use leaves as factories to make food from sunlight through photosynthesis. This is a free service which produces oxygen for us and removes carbon dioxide from the air. This process also releases water which affects local climate. Without leaves the tree can’t survive.

Once the food is made it is distributed throughout the tree. Upper branches can act as storage sites which is why pruning during drought can starve a tree. Under drought conditions, leaf openings called stomata close to prevent moisture loss. This, in turn, means that carbon dioxide can’t enter therefore food production stops. Then, here comes a landscaper with strata orders to prune trees. As he removes some of the upper branches, he removes food that was stored in them. Boom. Starvation ensues.

Leaves also serve as food for various animals and they act as cover for birds. For example, caterpillars munch on young leaves and are in turn eaten by birds.

Leaves also look great in the fall as they turn color. This katsura tree is no exception.

Too many leaves? Not likely. Let the tree do its thing.