This specimen would be a challenge for an arborist.

(This article is recycled from a decade ago.)

Pasadena sustained the worst of the damage caused by the strongest Santa Ana Winds in three decades. Huge piles of debris from broken trees are much more than can be removed any time soon. Falling debris and trees damaged many roofs, cars and anything else that happened to get in the way.

Other towns and neighborhoods throughout the area, particularly those at the base of mountains, also sustained major damage. At the same time, severe winds ravaged the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas as well, particularly in the Santa Cruz Mountains and the hills of the East Bay.

Some of the damage caused by wind in urban areas might have been less disastrous if trees had gotten the respect and attention that they deserve. Some trees develop structural deficiencies that need to be corrected by pruning, either to eliminate the problems, or at least to decrease the strain exerted onto the structurally deficient parts. A few trees that become unstable as they mature may likewise need to be pruned or even removed.

It is not always possible to prune trees to remove all structural deficiencies without damaging the affected trees more, or causing more structural problems to develop. For example, major pruning to remove all parts that may get blown down by wind, such as pollarding or ‘topping’, may seem to be effective for the short term, but actually stimulates the development of vigorous secondary growth or watersprouts that are disproportionately heavy and even more likely to tear off from the older limbs.

Structural pruning more often involves thorough reduction of weight and wind resistance. Weight of foliage and stems directly applies leverage against unions where smaller stems are attached to the larger stems from which they originate. Wind resistance adds more leverage as foliage gets blown about by wind. Thinning obviously removes significant weight, and also decreases wind resistance to allow wind to blow though the affected canopies.

Besides helping to compensate for structural deficiency, structural pruning is also beneficial to potentially unstable trees for the same reasons. However, unstable trees typically need even more reduction of weight and wind resistance. Some of the most unstable trees and those that are deteriorating need to be removed because their instability cannot be accommodated.

During winter, while deciduous trees are bare, evergreen trees are more susceptible to wind damage, obviously because they retain their weight and wind resistance through winter while the weather is the most severe. Unstable trees become even more destabilized as rain softens the soil. Regardless of the potential for susceptibility to wind damage, this would be a good time of year to get any needed tree maintenance done, prior to any more windy and rainy winter weather.

Arborists certified by the International Society of Arboriculture are the most qualified to identify potential structural problems or instability, and to prescribe corrective procedures. A list of certified arborists can be found at the website of the International Society of Arboriculture at


4 thoughts on “Arborists Are Physicians Of Trees

  1. Pruning always takes so much knowledge and thought. We recently had to take down a vary large willow oak that was dying from a virus. With it gone, it’s clear that another younger oak nearby (the height, but not near the girth of the other) has way more branches on the side away from the large tree…Not totally unbalance, but affected.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The arborists who I worked for over the years are very experienced and educated with arboriculture. Unfortunately, like all horticultural professions, theirs attracts too many who are not so proficient. It is a difficult topic for me to write about.


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