Don’t top trees, bottom them
By JIMMY WILLIAMS
Special to The Messenger
Once upon a time I railed over the ignorant and misguided topping of trees. Correction: Not once, but many times.
It has done little good, as far as I can see. There are, as we speak, trees all over the city and county that are newly bobbed, their stark and gaunt leavings piercing the sky in clumsy fashion. They are downright ugly to behold where, a few weeks ago, there was a lacy filigree of twigs at the ends of healthy branches. Strange indeed, the thinking of those who insist tree topping is just the thing.
On a more positive note, if you think a change is needed on your shade trees, consider not topping, but “bottoming” them. Many trees cast too deep a shade for grass, or much of anything for that matter, to grow beneath them.
Removing some of the lower limbs at the trunk or at an intersection with a larger branch means shade can be lightened and yet the tree will still provide enough for cooling in summer.
In fact, a high branched tree, or group of them, allows more air movement than does a woodland with low branches. Deep woods can be hot places indeed, where no air penetrates.
Garrett Sinclair did a yeoman service for me last fall on some oaks and gums in our woodland, taking off the lowest branches up to perhaps 30 feet off the ground, greatly brightening what was once deep shade. Now, underplanting has a much better chance of proving worthwhile.
Garrett climbs like a monkey, hauling a small chain saw along with him. No heavy and damaging cherry-picker truck is needed, due to his climbing ability, thus preventing damage at ground level, not to speak of the fact he can go where such equipment can’t.
Branches thus removed should be cut flush, never leaving stubs where moisture and disease might enter. Even limbs up to 6 inches in diameter will leave scars that heal rather quickly when cut at a junction.
There is no reason to use sealants at such wounds. Tree experts now say the sealants do more harm than good. However, if the light colored scars bother you, they can be spray painted black for a temporary cosmetic effect.
I had Garrett back a few weeks ago for more of the same type work on some 30-year-old pines on our west side, along with a big sycamore that had drooping branches shading a mixed ornamental border and understory shrubs below.
He again took off lower limbs until the branch structure was much higher from the ground, allowing more light and air movement to the ornamentals. The latter is important in prevention of disease, mildew and other fungus problems thriving in damp, shady and stagnant air conditions.
Tree work is better done in winter or early spring before leaves are extended. It makes for less haulm to deal with and wounds begin to heal quickly because callus tissue begins to form almost immediately as the tree’s yearly growth cycle gets under way.
I want to take this opportunity to commend our city street crews who are responsible for hauling away the brush and limbs that result from tree work. They have gone above the call of duty for us this past winter as we have been working off and on for several months on our trees and shrubs.
The city fire department will issue a burning permit for dealing with brush, but they prefer to have the hauling crews deal with it. Too many people are careless with fire and damage can be costly when a brush fire escapes to more valuable subjects.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 3.11.08