This article from three years ago definitely conforms to the ‘Horridculture’ meme for Wednesday.

Tony Tomeo


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…

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Green Roof

This artice is from three years ago too, and the picture is a bit older. I sort of wonder if this tree is still there.

Tony Tomeo

P71125Is this a bad idea for a green roof?

Is it a houseplant that got too big?

Is it a wheelchair accessible tree-house?

None of the above. It is just weird architecture, designed to preserve a rare Chilean wine palm. The tree was probably planted in the front garden of a Victorian home that was on this site before the site was redeveloped. Chilean wine palms were more popular back then; and this one seems to be about that age. Although it seems to be healthy now, the constriction in the trunk indicates that it had been stressed by the redevelopment, which undoubtedly covered much of the established root system. The time it took for the length of trunk above the constriction to grow coincides with the estimated age of the building below. The tree very likely had better access to rainwater before.

Because it is a palm, the trunk…

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Arborists Specialize In Tree Horticulture


Why is it so difficult to believe that there are so many different kinds of horticultural professionals? No one is ever surprised that surgeons, cardiologists, dermatologists, ophthalmologists and pulmonologists are all physicians. Yet, those who do not know better consider all horticultural professionals to be ‘gardeners’. This is actually more insulting to real professionals than outsiders can imagine, because the gardening industry is more dominated by non-professionals than any other horticultural industry.

Nurserymen, landscapers and florists are also horticultural professionals. Each of these basic categories can be divided into more specialized professions. For example, production nurserymen grow nursery stock or other horticultural commodities, while retail nurserymen maintain plant material only long enough to sell it. Maintenance gardeners are probably the most familiar of horticultural professionals because so many of us use their services around our home gardens.

Arborists are the horticulturists who specialize in trees, and really should be more familiar than they are. The only landscapes that have no possible use for their services are those that are devoid of trees. Even the most proficient of maintenance gardeners should not be expected to maintain large trees or diagnose potential arboricultural problems, not only because arboriculture is so specialized, but also because maintenance gardeners have their own specialties to be concerned with.

Because trees are the most substantial features of a landscape, and they have the potential to cause proportionate problems if not maintained properly, it is very important to have them maintained by qualified arborists. Those who are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture, or ISA, have passed an exam of their expertise, and maintain their certification with regular involvement with the ISA. Such involvement includes attendance to arboricultural seminars and classes.

It is ironic that some of the least familiar of horticultural professionals need to stay so dedicated to the maintenance of their credentials. Certified arborists can be found at the website of the ISA at

The Davey Tree

P90317This is no common Douglas fir. It is the ‘Davey Tree’, named after the tree service that so diligently prunes it for clearance from the utility cables above. Yes, I can see as easily as you can how disfigured it is. The plan is to cut it down before it falls apart. At least that is the excuse for cutting it down. It is relatively short an stout, so is likely quite able to support its own weight, regardless of this disfigurement. We really just want it gone because it is so unsightly.
Most who see the Davey Tree are quick to blame the disfigurement on those who prune it for clearance. They do not consider that without such pruning, the utility cables would eventually be ruined and unable to deliver the electricity that so many of us use. Those who prune the trees do what they must to keep the electricity and other utility cables operational. Unfortunately, such work sometimes ruins trees.
As an arborist who sometimes works with other arborists who must perform clearance pruning, I am more likely to blame other landscape professionals. Some landscape designers design landscapes with trees that get too tall or broad within utility easements. Heck, many designers do not even designate where such easements are on the drafts of their landscape plans. Some so-called ‘gardeners’ plant such trees in utility easements with no plan at all. For what they all charge for their services, landscape professionals should know better than to put inappropriate trees into situations where they will eventually need to be mutilated or removed. Not many think that far ahead, or even care.
Anyway, the inappropriate location and disfigurement of the Davey Tree really can not be blamed on anyone. It is a wild tree that grew there from seed.P90317+

Trees Need Clearance From Utilities

30320thumbPalm trunks grow in only one direction; upward, toward sunlight and away from gravity. Each trunk is equipped with only a single terminal bud. If that bud encounters an obstacle, it can not be pruned around it. Palm trunks that get get too close to high voltage cables, or that might sway too close with a breeze, must therefore be removed to maintain minimal clearance from the cables.

Queen palms are notorious for getting planted under high voltage cables because they are so often impulse purchases that get planted without much planning. They are popularly planted along rear fences, exactly where high voltage cables are often located. Mexican fan palms often grow along rear fences as well because that is where birds and rodents are likely to drop the seeds.

Trees with single central leaders, like redwoods, spruces and certain pines, will be disfigured if their main trunks need to be topped for clearance from cables. Removal of such trees is often more practical than this sort of disfigurement. More extensively branched trees like sycamores, ashes, oaks and elms, are more adaptable to clearance pruning if it is not too severely disfiguring.

It is much simpler to not plant trees that get too large under high voltage cables. Elsewhere in the garden, where there is enough lateral (side) clearance, vertical clearance is not such a problem for larger trees. Small trees like redbud, purple leaf plum, photinia and various pittosporums, either do not get tall enough to reach upper cables, or will require only minimal pruning for clearance.

Below high voltage cables, the lower cables are for lower voltage, telephone and television. ‘House-drops’ are the cables that extend from utility poles to houses and other buildings. Although clearance is not so important for these lower risk cables, limbs that lean on them and blow around in wind can be abrasive. Sagging limbs can cause utility cables to sag more than they should.

Unfortunately, those who prune trees for utility clearance are efficient, but rarely arboriculturally correct.

Arborists Really Know Their Trees

7bd6It is no surprise that there are many different types of physicians within the medical industries. Pediatricians, surgeons, cardiologists, dermatologists, and all sorts of ‘doctors’ are all recognized for their particular medical specialty. Yet, almost all horticultural professionals are known simply as gardeners or landscapers, even though many never work directly in gardens or landscapes.

Production nurserymen grow horticultural commodities (plants). Other nurserymen maintain these commodities while they are marketed. Landscape designers develop the landscapes that many plants inhabit. Only after the involvement of various less familiar horticultural professionals, landscapers install the landscapes, and gardeners maintain them. Somehow, they get too much credit.

Arborists really deserve more credit. They are the physicians of trees, who specialize in arboriculture, which is the horticulture of trees. Much of their work is out of reach to gardeners, and is very distinct from the sort of work that gardeners should be expected to perform. Trees are the most substantial features of a landscape, so really should get the proper attention that they deserve.

The International Society of Arboriculture, or ISA, certifies professional arborists who have passed an examination of their arboricultural expertise, and continue to demonstrate proficiency with discriminating arboricultural standards. Continued involvement with ISA classes, educational seminars and workshops is required to maintain arborist certification. It demands serious dedication.

Besides assessing the health, stability and structural integrity of trees, ISA certified arborists are the most qualified to prescribe any necessary arboricultural procedures, and to direct those who perform these necessary procedures. Most local municipalities require a report from an ISA certified arborist to accompany an application for a permit to remove any protected ‘heritage’ tree.

The website of the ISA, at, Is an excellent resource for finding certified arborists, and the tree service businesses with which they are affiliated. Arborists can be found by name directly, or regionally by ZIP code or city. The website is also a great resource for information about proper arboriculture and trees, and can help those who are not arborists with selection of trees.

Fireplaces Are A Rare Luxury

51028thumbThere are fewer fireplaces after every significant earthquake. Removal of a damaged chimney is probably more practical than repair, particularly if the fireplace does not get much use anyway. Wood stoves sometimes get removed simply because they are in the way. Modern building codes forbid their return once they are gone, and also forbid them in new construction.

The few surviving fireplaces and wood stoves do not get used as regularly as they used to. It seems that no one is around the home long enough to tend to a fire. Orchards that provided so much affordable firewood as they were being removed for urban development are gone now. The outskirts of town, where trees and woodlots might be found, are now more than a short drive away.

Firewood can still be purchased from tree service businesses that must dispose of the wood that their work generates. Because such firewood is a byproduct of urban forestry, it is an unpredictable mix of all sorts of urban trees, and must be procured early in the year to be seasoned by autumn and winter. It is now much too late to purchase green firewood for this winter.

Almost all types of urban firewood are comparable to more traditional types. A few types deposit more residue in chimneys, so that chimneys need to be cleaned more frequently. Firewood from woodlots can be surprisingly more expensive; but it burns cleaner, and is already seasoned. Many woodlots would be pleased to deliver firewood that is ready to burn now.

Firewood is perishable, so only slightly more than enough for one year should be procured annually. Any leftovers can rot if left out in the weather too long. Firewood last longer in a shed or garage, but takes up too much space, and can be attractive to rodents.

Synthetic logs from the supermarket happen to be more efficient than real wood, and do not need to be seasoned. A single log burns longer and cleaner than a few real logs, and produces as much heat. However, they are individually very expensive, and are just not the same as real firewood.


P81208KKThe tufts of small branches that so often develop where limbs were pruned from the trunks of a coast live oaks are sometimes referred to as ‘tumbleweeds’. They are about the same size as an average tumbleweed. By the time the get any larger, most of the smaller stems have subordinated and died out, leaving only a few more defined dominant stems, which will continue the process until even fewer or a single new branch dominates. Such tumbleweeds, as well as stems that originated from such growth, are weakly attached to the main trunks. They often get pruned off for the same reason that the limbs that were there before got pruned off, or because they are expected to be weakly attached. If they remain long enough, they can of course develop into new limbs.

Tufts of the same sort of growth on sycamores or other deciduous trees are known more simply as . . . ‘tufts’ I bet you didn’t see that coming. They can get much bigger than tumbleweeds before they develop much distinction between the dominant and subordinate growth. Because tuft growth is innately vigorous, the leaves are bigger and coarser. Then, when the rest of the deciduous trees that produce them defoliate in autumn, the tufts retain their green foliage until it gets ruined by frost.

This big sycamore dropped its top over summer. The tufts developed on the big trunks that became exposed to sunlight by the loss of the upper canopy above. The tree will naturally try to replace its top, but will also naturally be even more disfigured and structurally deficient than it already was. As the tufts develop into limbs, and the limbs get heavy with foliage, they will be very likely to break away and fall. As unpleasant as all that sounds, it is quite natural for such a mature sycamore who is so old that he just doesn’t care who gets offended anymore.

Arborists Are Very Specialized Horticulturists

81205thumbThe first storm of the year has a way of reminding us if our trees need attention. Whether then need to be worked on this year or not, we tend to notice how they blow in the wind, or if they are full of dead and deteriorating debris that falls into the garden or onto the roof. As deciduous trees defoliate, they are less likely to be damaged by wind, but their structural deficiencies become visible.
This is when some of us will contact arborists to inspect and perform necessary arboricultural procedures for trees that have grown to big for us to maintain. We do not want trees to be damaged by the wind. Nor do we want them dropping limbs or falling onto whatever is within their reach. Those that are biggest and most beyond our reach have the most potential to cause major damage.
Arborists are horticulturists who specialize in the horticulture of trees, which is known as arboriculture. They assess the healthy, stability and structural integrity of trees, then prescribe necessary corrective arboricultural procedures, and if necessary, prescribe the best time for such procedures. Most arborists work with a tree service that is equipped to perform the prescribed procedures.
Arborists who are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture, or ISA, have passed an examination of their arboricultural expertise, and maintain their credential by continued involvement with the educational seminars, classes and workshops of the ISA. More information about the ISA, local certified arborists and even arboriculture, can be found at the website
As mentioned earlier, arboriculture is specialized horticulture of trees. It is not something that gardeners should be expected to perform; particularly mow, blow and go gardeners who are not even proficient with simple gardening. Many arborists can concur that unqualified gardeners sometimes kill trees, and cause much of the damage to trees that arborists must later correct. Besides, arboriculture is the sort of work that can be very dangerous to those who lack training, experience or the necessary equipment.



By modern standards, the public schools that I attended in the early 1970s would be considered to be bleak and primitive. The building were utilitarian and simple, from about twenty years earlier. The landscaping was comparably simple, with a big lawn and proportionately big shade trees. A screen of alternating Monterey pine and Monterey cypress was hedged on the southern half of the eastern boundary of the schoolyard. The only deviants to the simplicity were a few significantly older trees on the northern half of the eastern boundary of the school yard. There were two coastal redwoods, a Canary Island date palm, a cedar, and a spruce of some sort. They were all quite mature, and were likely remnants from an old farmhouse that was there before. Perhaps they wanted us to be aware that everything changes.
On the way to kindergarten, back when children were allowed to walk to school, I weaseled my way underneath the first Monterey pine and Monterey cypress on the southern end of the fence line, and fell asleep. I do not remember how long I stayed there, but it was long enough to get in serious trouble with my very worried kindergarten teacher. After that, I could only visit those two trees in passing, and perhaps stop only briefly to smell the foliage or shake some of the rain away.
Nearly four decades later, but only a few years ago, I was assigned the grim task of composing the arborist report that would justify the issuance of a permit to remove that same Monterey pine, which was the last that remained of the hedged trees that I remember. I did not know that when I went to the site. I was just told that it was a ‘pine’.
Visiting the old school was not a pleasant experience. The entire site was surrounded with a prison like fence and saran screens to obscure the view inside and out. There were no open gates. I needed to be escorted to the tree by a professional chaperone. Much of the schoolyard had been very synthetically landscaped with microtrees and pretty flowering shrubbery that was intended to impress parents rather than appeal to children. It is bad enough that there are no orchards or open spaces remaining in the region, but it is worse that children are deprived of the open lawns and trees and natural spaces that my generation had taken for granted on the grounds of our school. Are children even allowed to climb trees anymore? Do they know what dirt is? Can they observe a chrysalis split open to reveal a new butterfly before the gardeners shear the shrubbery and take the learning experience away? It was saddening.
Once I realized that the tree that I was expected to condemn was my old friend, I asked the chaperone, who seemed to know a bit about facilities at the site, why anyone would want the now mature tree to be removed. I knew that it had been mutilated while young, but was impressed with how it somehow recovered and developed a well structured trunk. I thought that perhaps someone noticed something that I was missing in my inspection. People who are not arborists are sometimes alarmed by something that is perfectly normal for a tree, such as furrowed bark, or slight seasonal foliar discoloration.
The chaperone explained that the tree needed to be removed simply because it did not conform to the style of the rest of the landscape. I waited for the rest of the answer, but that was it. The tree did not conform.
Nothing gave me more pleasure than to explain that after my evaluation of the health, stability and structural integrity of the subject, I could find no justification for removal.
I was dismissed.
Yes, it was worth it.
However, I knew that for the right price, another arborist would be pleased to condemn the tree. The picture of what remains suggests that the arborist who did so was not even professional enough to get his crew to finish the job. How does this dead stump conform to the rest of the landscape?
Those old trees, the redwoods, palm, cedar and spruce, were right. Everything changes.
The Monterey pine that would not conform is gone now, but it was right too.