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I recently shared some examples of ‘butchered’ trees and asked you to try to identify what each tree was.  You can take the quiz here, if you like before seeing the answers, below.


As promised, here the photos of badly pruned trees and what they should look like:


#1 – Desert Fern (Lysiloma watsonii)



#2 Shoestring Acacia (Acacia stenophylla)



#3 Chilean Mesquite (Prosopis chilensis)



#4 Palo Brea (Parkinsonia praecox)

‘Topping’ of trees is not only unsightly, it is also unhealthy – leaving trees susceptible to biological and environmental stresses and actually makes them grow faster and use more water.

For more information on why ‘topping’ is bad for trees, click here.

The other day, I was driving home from a landscape consult and as usual – I was on the lookout for examples of good and bad landscaping.

This particular day, I saw some great examples that  I would love to share with you.  

First the good…

 Isn’t this landscape grouping, attractive?

There is great texture and color.

The Mexican Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana) is one of my favorite flowering shrubs, which can be trained as small trees – I have 3 at home.

The spiky foliage of the Red Yucca help to provide contrast with the softer edges of the tree and Lantana.

Speaking of which, you cannot beat Lantana for summer color.

Here is another good example of landscaping…


Although, the Texas Sage, above, is planted a bit too close together, the homeowner has solved the problem by pruning them back severely to approximately 1 ft. using loppers.  Notice that they did NOT use hedge shears or trimmers, which is a good thing!

What this does is to keep the shrubs within bounds, but since they weren’t sheared, the flowers and natural shape of the shrubs can be enjoyed.

You can really tell the difference when you see the photo below from the house next door – which is a bad example by the way…

The same shrubs, planted too close together.  But, the homeowner elected to shear them back with hedge-trimmers.  
The flowers and absence of the shrubs natural shape make these look like green ‘cones’.
Finally, I saw this really bad example of landscaping… 

Isn’t this terrible?
Believe it or not, this is a Mesquite tree that has been ‘poodled’ – meaning sheared into a round shape.
Pruning trees this way is very unhealthy for them for many reasons:
– Shearing trees actually stimulates excess growth meaning that you will need to prune them more often then a properly pruned tree.
– Sunlight has difficulty penetrating the interior, which can lead to the eventual death of interior branches.
– New branches will grow at a ‘weak’ angle, which makes them more susceptible to breakage.
These are but a few of the reason of why not to ‘shear’ or ‘top’ trees.
**How about you?  What examples of good and bad landscaping have you seen this summer?
You can learn more about why it’s wrong to ‘top’ trees in this article from the International Society of Arboriculture.

Each time I go on a landscape consult, it is an adventure.  I never know what to expect.   Will there be serious problems with any of the trees and plants?  Or will my help be needed to re-design the landscape, adjust the irrigation schedule or help people learn how to maintain their plants?  Well, life is full of surprises. 

Of course, every time I go on a consult, I always bring my camera.  I am always looking for examples of beautiful plants and problems to photograph.  I then share many of them with you.


Yesterday, was a gorgeous spring day.  The high was 78 degrees and I actually had two consults scheduled, within two miles of each other.  My first client had just bought a new home and wanted help identifying her plants and how to take care of them.  She also had inherited some sick citrus trees and needed help in how to help them.

First the good things that I saw….


I was greeted by the front entry by this spectacular white flower.  Argentine Giant (Trichocereus candicans), is a cactus that is highly desired.  It produces flowers a few times during spring and summer months.  This particular cactus was absolutely covered in these large blossoms.


Nearby the Argentine Giant, was the smaller Claret Cup Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) awash in bright orange blooms.


An unusually shaped flowering Twin Flower Agave (Agave geminiflora) caught my eye.  Normally, they produce a single flowering stalk like the one on the left.  However, the one on the right had seven smaller stalks.  I love seeing examples of plants that are doing something out of the ordinary 🙂

Now for the bad….


This is one of the four sickly citrus trees that I was asked to see.  The diagnosis was relatively easy.  Lack of water and nutrient deficiency.  Both problems will be solved by enlarging the basin underneath the tree so that it extends out to where the branches end.  As the tree grows, so must the basin since a trees roots extend outwards where the branches extend.  A new watering schedule and making sure that the water penetrates to 3 ft. in depth should do much to help these trees.

Nutrient deficiencies are corrected by fertilizing citrus trees three times a year – in Feb/Mar, May and September, using either a synthetic or organic fertilizer specially formulated for citrus which contains not only nitrogen, but also micronutrients that are often deficient in our soils.  
More information on citrus care, irrigation and fertilization can be found here.


As I walked the landscape with the homeowner, we started looking at the trees that she had inherited with her new home.  I quickly noticed something very bad.  The previous homeowners had never removed the stake and cables from their tree when it was young.  
The tree ended up growing around the wire and there is no way to remove it now without seriously damaging the tree.  Usually, when wires are left on the tree, they gradually cut off the nutrients to the tree as the “veins” of the tree are located directly underneath the bark.  This usually results in the death of the tree.  However, this Mesquite tree appears to have survived and regrown it’s vascular (veins) system around the wire.  The tree is 11 years old and is the exception in terms of surviving this type of treatment.  


**If your trees are staked, PLEASE make sure to check your wires/cables to make sure that this does not happen to you.  Trees are not to be staked forever, only the first 1 – 2 years after planting.


Now the next bad thing I observed was not immediately obvious, but as I began to focus my gaze upwards to evaluate the trees, I saw a few clumps of mistletoe (Phoradendron californicum) growing in the tree.  Now, this is not the same kind of leafy mistletoe that is often seen at Christmas.  But it is a parasite that will, over time, cause a decline in the tree and stress the tree.  This makes the tree more susceptible to disease, insect infestations and other stresses. 

As an arborist, I have taken part in discussions regarding whether or not you should leave mistletoe in trees.  Mistletoe is part of the natural desert and can be seen growing in trees in the wild. Mistletoe itself will not kill a tree, but does stress the tree and leaves it vulnerable to disease, insects and environmental stresses that will kill the tree eventually.  
 In managed landscape areas I have always had mistletoe removed.  In my opinion, trees do not need any additional stress and the trees are part of a larger landscape design and aesthetics are important.  

I also recommend that homeowners also remove the mistletoe from their trees.  Not only will it help their tree, but will help keep the mistletoe from spreading to their neighbor’s trees.  Mistletoe is spread when birds eat the berries it produces and then they ‘poop’ them out on another tree’s branch and the seed germinates and starts to infect the branch it landed on.


Small clumps of mistletoe are not always obvious, but once you know what to look for, you will easily be able to spot it.  I recommend looking at your tree in the winter, when there are fewer leaves to hide the mistletoe.

There are two ways to remove mistletoe.  To completely get rid of it, you need to cut the branch that it occurs on at least 12″ below where the mistletoe begins.  In most cases, this will completely get rid of the mistletoe.  This works best with smaller branches.  However, if you have a very large branch that is infected, it may not be feasible to remove the branch.  In this case, you can prune the mistletoe off – just take your gloved hand and brush them off of the branch.  It is really that easy.  Doing this will not get rid of the mistletoe, but help to control it.  You will have to continue to do this periodically to keep the mistletoe from becoming larger and spreading.


Now on to my second client of the day.  Overall, is landscape was in good shape.  His citrus trees were healthy as were the rest of his plants.  But, the majority of his concerns were in regards to his irrigation system.  His mature Palo Brea tree (Parkinsonia praecox), pictured above, still had the irrigation emitters positioned by the trunk of the tree.  The same place that they had been place 8 years ago.  The problem is, the roots have now moved.

I explained to him that as a tree grows, so do the roots.  They grow outwards, toward the edge of where the branches extend.  And so as the tree grows, the emitters need to be moved and places around the tree where the branches end.  For this tree, three 2 (gph) emitters evenly spaced around the tree will work just fine.

Well, I had a very fulfilling day working with some very nice people.  I just love help people learn how to care for their trees and plants and spend time outdoors and admiring the beauty in people’s gardens.

As I was leaving, I saw something very ugly….
This homeowner had ‘topped’ his Mesquite tree.  Now, I am not sure why they had this done.  I could tell that from looking at the branches, that it was not the first time it had been ‘topped’.
Now any arborist will tell you that ‘topping’ is bad and there are a number of reasons why.  I will address it further in another post, but will leave you with these few reasons NOT to top your trees:

-It causes the tree to grow more quickly to replace the leaves lost, therefore increasing the amount of pruning needed.
-The new branches will not be firmly attached and will be more likely to break.
-Topping stresses the tree, making it susceptible to disease, insects and environmental stresses.
-If those reasons are not enough, then maybe this one will be….IT IS UGLY.
*For more information on the damage ‘topping’ trees does, you can visit The International Society of Arboriculture.
Thank you for hanging in there with me…I realize this was a long post, but there was so much to ‘talk’ about from my visits yesterday.  I hope you enjoyed the beauty of the flowers and that maybe I have helped people avoid some of the problems that I have highlighted.

Sometimes when I am driving around, I see a poorly pruned tree or shrub, and I just cringe.  It never ceases to amaze me the crazy ways that people take care of their plants.  Whenever I see plants like this, I whip out my camera and quickly take a photo and then drive away before the homeowner asks what I am doing.

Butchered Palo Brea Tree

I mean if they catch me taking a photo, I can’t very well tell them, “I am taking pictures of the horrible way you prune your trees ?” Can I?  Well, I probably could and should, but I am too chicken to confront people that way.  I have no problem confronting people about their horrible pruning if they have asked me over to do a consult on their landscaping.  I just like an invitation first before I tell people what they are doing wrong 😉

‘Topped’ Willow Acacia
 
Willow Acacia as it should look like.
 
Although, the primary purpose of this post is to entertain with photos of truly awful pruning disasters.  I just have to step up on my “high horse” for just a minute regarding one type of pruning that is widespread.  So please bear with me…
 
One of the most harmful types of pruning in regards to trees is called ‘topping’ the tree.  It removes a lot of the top growth.  This is usually done to shorten the tree and to preserve a view.  The topping is NOT good for the tree and accelerates more top growth.  The new branches are weakly attached and are much more liable to break, which can cause damage to what is underneath.  Also, topping trees greatly stress the tree which can make them susceptible to insect and certain environmental factors.  You can read more about topping trees here Tree Care.
 
 
Chilean Mesquite with a ‘kink’ in its trunk.
  

 ‘Poodle’ Olive Tree

 Okay, the vast majority of trees should not be prune into round shapes.
 
Palo Brea tree pruned into a ‘ball.’
 
Palo Brea tree as it should look.
 
A Blue Palo Verde tree that lost its head.
 

A few years ago we suffered a severe micro-burst during the summertime at the community where I was working.   The tree above snapped off in the high winds at a weak point in the trunk, which was weak due to improper pruning that was done a long time before the storm.

 
This is an Orange tree that has been pruned correctly.

The Citrus tree, above, has been pruned the right way, but I just had to include it in this post because it is so humorous.  Look closely (you can click on the photo to enlarge)…. the homeowner tied CDs to the tree to scare off the birds from eating the fruit.

 
Many people prune their Citrus trees up so that they look more like a ‘typical’ tree.  But what many people don’t know is that the lower branches produce the most fruit, the sweetest fruit and protects the trunk from sunburn.
 

Now for some truly awful examples of shrubs….remember the “cupcakes” from a previous post?

Little Leaf Cordia pruned into a ‘ball.’
 
In an earlier post, we covered the epidemic of pruning shrubs into the shapes of ‘cupcakes.’  Well, there is another epidemic in where people prune their shrubs into the shape of a ‘ball.’  We call this type of pruning, “Poodle-Pruning” because the shrubs resemble the ball shapes that poodles have when groomed.  Either way, ‘cupcakes’ or ‘poodle,’ neither are good for your shrubs and take away from their beauty.
 
Feathery Cassia shrubs with large areas of dead growth.
 

One of the results of repeated shearing of your shrubs into specific shapes (cupcakes or balls), results in areas of dead growth.  This is because sunlight cannot penetrate inside the shrub and it is constantly trying to replace the growth that is cut off constantly.  There is a cure, which I will cover in a spring time post, which is when corrective pruning should be done.

Thunder Cloud Sage, unpruned
  
Now I don’t recommend going to the other extreme, above, and not pruning.  Just do it correctly.  So, if you have any ‘cupcakes’ or ‘poodles’ in your landscape, do not panic!  I will cover the correct ways to prune many shrubs in the spring, which is the time that it should be done.
 
So, take care to prune properly, because you never know when I will come driving by with my camera….