P90413KThis is the beginning of one of several new knuckles on a pollarded crape myrtle tree that was pollareded for the first time just this past winter. It was quite a mess of thicket growth that was too congested to bloom well. It is also located in a confined situation where it could not just be groomed, pruned up for clearance, and then just left to develop a larger canopy higher up. Pollarding will both contain it, as well as invigorate healthier growth.
New shoot growth now emerging from the ends of limbs that were pruned back last winter will elongate and eventually bloom through spring and summer. Next winter, after all the colorful autumn foliage has defoliated, the tree will get pruned back to these same knuckles to repeat the process. Stems will get cut back as neatly as possible, leaving no stubs, but such pruning causes knuckles to become slightly more distended as the develop.
Minor shoot growth that develops elsewhere on the mature stems below the developing knuckles should be removed as it appears. It is easy to knock off now, before it gets big enough to need to be pruned off. Knocking it off or ‘peeling’ it off, as drastic as it sounds, is actually better than pruning it off. It removes more of the callus growth that is likely to develop more stem growth later. New growth should be concentrated into the knuckles.
Pollarded crape myrtles bloom later than those that are not pollarded, but they bloom more profusely. They are also more resistant to mildew, and develop better foliar color in autumn.
The picture below shows the same crape myrtle that I got the picture of the single knuckle above from, shortly after it was pollarded. This picture was used another article at:


P80729Coppiced trees and shrubs are just like pollarded trees, but without the trunk and main limbs. Instead of getting cut back to the same distended knuckles at the ends of disproportionately stout limbs, they get cut back to the same stump just above grade over winter. Some get coppiced annually. Others get coppiced only when they get too big. The coppiced California sycamore in this picture may never get coppiced again.
It was not intentionally coppiced. It had merely been cut down. The trunk was in the middle of where this thicket of secondary growth is now, but all of the canopy was over the adjacent parking lot from which the picture was taken. The tree was so severely and asymmetrically disfigured and leaning that it was unsightly and unmanageable. It really looked ridiculous. Removing the tree and replacing it with a new one would have been more practical than attempting to repair the disfigurement with corrective pruning over many years. Besides, such severe pruning to repair the disfigurement would have caused other disfigurement, and in the end, the tree would still be leaning.
Others California sycamores nearby had been cut down years ago because they were crowded. As the remaining trees continued to grow, those that had been cut down regenerated from their stumps with multiple trunks, and are now getting almost as tall as the others that were not cut down. Some of their smaller trunks will get cut down next winter, leaving them with single, double or triple trunks, but they will not be cut down completely as they were before. Instead, they will be allowed to adapt to their crowded conditions naturally. They are all becoming such appealing trees.
The coppiced but technically cut down California sycamore in the picture will be given the same sort of second chance. While bare in winter, the secondary growth will be pruned to leave only one, two or three trunks to hopefully develop into a new tree on the same spot.

the Good, the Bad, and they’re both UGLY!

P80307Pollarding and coppicing are bad words to most American arborists. These extreme pruning techniques are considered to be synonymous with topping. Yet, both have been around for centuries, and have actually kept some trees alive and productive significantly longer than they would naturally live.

Rather than redundantly explaining what pollarding and coppicing are, and why they are useful arboricultural techniques, I will provide this link to an article I wrote about them earlier:

I am one of the rare American arborists who not only condone pollarding and coppicing, but I also use these techniques when necessary. I will be coppicing red twig dogwood soon so that it produces more vigorous red twigs next year, and also because we can not allow it to grow wild as a thicket. Some of my fig trees will get pollarded to make vigorous shoots for cuttings, and also to keep them contained in their minimal space. Both techniques are very effective if done properly.

I must stress the word ‘properly’.

Improperly executed pollarding or coppicing really is disfiguring, and can be disastrous. Yet, it is done quite often by those who get payed to maintain landscapes!

The picture above illustrates a remarkably well pollarded flowering pear tree. It was obviously done by an arborist who knows how to pollard in the English style. Although it is difficult to see in the picture, the knuckles were pruned back cleanly last year, leaving no stubble. The vigorous secondary shoots developed mostly from the knuckles, with only a few stems emerging from lower on the main limbs. When this tree gets pollarded again (and it may have already been pollarded since this picture was taken last week), it should get pruned back to the same knuckles.

The pictures below show some sort of magnolia that was severely disfigured by maintenance ‘gardeners’, probably for no other reason than it was within their reach. A magnolia can not bloom if all of the stems from the previous year get pruned off by pollarding. This magnolia happened to bloom with a few distorted flowers only because the pollarding was so poorly done, that long stubs remain. These flowers are really nothing to look at within the context of all this unsightly disfigured stems. The long stubs can not be compartmentalized as the new growth develops in spring, so will remain as open and decaying wounds as the tree matures.

So, what is the point of this magnolias even being in the landscape? It contribute nothing. It can not bloom. It can not grow into a tree, but is unappealing as shrubbery. It will always be disfigured. The disfigurement will eventually compromise its health. It would be best if it were merely removed, or at least coppiced and allowed to regenerate. Even if it is a grafted tree, and gets coppiced below the graft, the resulting growth would be an improvement, and might actually bloom if the ‘gardeners’ do not ruing it again.P80307+P80307++



I use the term loosely. Okay, so maybe I use it mockingly in this context. This sort of thing really should have no connection to the works of Calder, Rodin or Brancusi. It might be worthy of a few fancy adjectives, such as ‘severe’, ‘unusual’, ‘dramatic’ and ‘bold’. Horticulturally though, we might be thinking more like ‘disgraceful’, ‘abhorrent’, ‘ridiculous’ or ‘just plain sad’.

There is nothing wrong with pollarding, that severe sort of pruning that almost all other arborists will tell you is wrong. It involves pruning trees back to the same distended terminal knuckles every winter. Only a few trees are adaptable to the technique, and technically, sweetgum happens to be one of those few trees.

The stipulation is that once pollarded, they MUST be cut back to the same knuckles EVERY winter. A small stub or maybe two can be left on knuckles to allow them to elongate a bit annually, but that is about all. Pollarding is severely disfiguring, and ruins structurally integrity for all growth after the first growing season. Without this annual and aggressive maintenance, pollarded trees are very likely to drop limbs and possibly disintegrate faster than they can recover.

Sweetgums are not often pollarded because they are usually grown for their autumn color. Secondary growth that develops in response to pollarding is too vigorous to color well. The foliage stays green well into winter, and then falls without much color at all. Pollarding sort of defeats the purpose of growing a sweetgum.

The real problem with this particular tree is that it was not pollarded correctly. For one, it was probably cut like this because someone thought that it was too big. It should have been cut much lower if someone was going to put the work into pollarding it at all. Now, the secondary growth that must be pruned away will be very high, and take much more work to prune away. It will also be more exposed to wind. Limbs that break away will fall from higher up, so will fall farther away, and with more inertia.

Secondly, the pruning technique really was ‘abhorrent’. Small stubs are acceptable on established knuckles in order to direct growth. Long stubs that are expected to develop into knuckles are also acceptable. The weird stubs on the trunks of this tree are both too short and too stout. Because they are too short, they will be too shaded to develop into knuckles. They are too stout to compartmentalize or ‘heal’ (if they do not form knuckles) so are likely to decay, and spread decay into the trunks.

Thirdly, this tree was pollarded in summer, which is why the secondary growth is so stunted and underdeveloped now that the tree should be going dormant for autumn. The stunting should not be much of problem, since new growth should develop in spring. The problem is that the lightly colored bark likely scaled when it suddenly became exposed to sunlight by the removal of all of the foliage in the middle of summer. The scalded areas will eventually decay and become open wounds, which will spread decay into the main trunks and limbs. Even if secondary growth is healthy, and the tree gets pollarded correctly every winter, the limbs will eventually become unable to support the weight of healthy foliage.

This is one of the many reasons it is so important to procure the services of a qualifies arborist. Someone payed a significant amount of money to get this valuable tree ruined, and will eventually need to pay more money to have it removed. It would have been much less expensive to pay a bit more to get the tree pruned properly, or to have it removed completely.