Going Topless

This weekend we were in West Tennessee attending a friends wedding and took a side trip to visit some of my wife's relatives. While there I saw a horrifying site. At my wife's grandmother's house is a wonderful old oak tree that casts a welcoming shade on hot summer days, or at least it used to. On the right is the tree as it stood in 2005. Unfortunately I don't have a wider angle shot to show you but I think you will agree that it is a beautiful tree with nicely proportioned branch angles.

Typically on trees branches that extend outward from the trunk at a horizontal angle are strong branches. Vase like shapes (like those in my least favorite tree the Bradford pear) tend to have weak branches since the branches are exerting more force where they join up with the trunk. They also peel away large pieces of bark along the trunk when they get damaged in storms.

Just wait until you see the way the tree looks now.

Yes this is the very same tree four years later. The important thing to notice in this picture is not the ugly mangled stubbiness left behind by a tree topper's chainsaw, it's all the new growth emanating from every possible bud. This tree will regain much of its lost foliage within 2-3 years, which is very fast. All the roots are still there and the tree will work overtime to reestablish what it lost. (How would you like to lose over 1/3 of your total body?) Fast growth means weak growth, and lots of it. But that's not the only issue of concern when a tree is topped. The wounds are gaping holes just waiting for diseases. Consider what happens when you limb up a small tree or a small tree gets a wound. The smaller the wound the faster it heals but it can only heal as far as the current seasons growth will allow it. That small tree will grow over most wounds in a single season but many of the branches on this tree were 10-16 inches in diameter, they won't heal anytime soon and could be several years if ever which opens the door to disease and decay.

I understand why the tree was a concern. It was planted very close to the house and had large limbs that extended over the roof. The fear of a large branch coming through the house is definitely no laughing matter, but think of what happens now. The new branches are significantly weaker than the ones that were on the tree for the last 20 years and will eventually grow over the house. If diseases, insects, and rot don't fester in the wounds of the tree and it survives long enough those branches will again be a concern. Then it will need to be pruned again, oh wait this wasn't pruning. Pruning is what should have happened. A licensed arborist should have been hired to determine what branches should be taken out. The arborist would not have pruned out more than 1/3 of the branches at any one time and it would not have resulted in the stubby giant oak that you see in the picture. If you need an arborist to take a look at your trees please call your local county extension agency, they are there to help you...use them!

The other option would be to remove the tree completely and plant a new smaller tree in its place. One that wouldn't extend branches over the roof of the house or pose any threat of damage. A redbud might have been a great one to place there. This is why it is so important to plant trees in the right spot. You may not be concerned with it today when it's an elegant little sapling but when it becomes a graceful giant you will be!