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Butchery, But Who's to Blame?

Tree topping (technically pollarding) unfortunately is a somewhat common practice, especially on the south side of Indianapolis (see photo) and in rural areas. The result is a hideous look, especially when leafless, AND is not healthy for the plant. So, who is to blame--the person who planted the fast-growing weedy species (like the native crappy riparian silver maple in the above photo) believing that it would stop growing when they wanted, or that they could prune into control, OR the drive thru the neighborhood pseudo arborists (shyster?) preying on naive homeowners, often giving them exactly what they want; i.e., a temporarily smaller plant that looks like what their neighbor has? Let's call it misguided mimicry, and there is a lot of it. Traditional DOES NOT necessarily mean good or correct.

ALL woody plants are indeterminate growers (i.e., they DO NOT stop growing unless dormant or dead), although the plant's genetic constitution allows (or prohibits) some species and cultivars from getting as big or doing so as quickly. Location and growing conditions also play a role in determining potential actual size. There is no mature size--a size at which the woody species, be they vines, shrubs and trees stop growing--even though practically everyone is inclined to think otherwise, and that is what is implied by most plant labels. Moreover, almost all garden center employees and landscapers DO NOT know this or, if they did, would not tell you because it would make it less likely that you would give them your money. Compounding the problem is the fact that potentially big tree species are commonly planted under or too close to utility lines, causing problems for all of us; i.e., power outages and increased bills due to preventable required maintenance which often results in a disfiguring prune job we see along roadways and utility corridors.

Want a fast-growing tree that will stop growing when it gets to the size you want? Simple, kill the specimen when it gets that size (assuming it can), because otherwise it IS NOT going to stop growing. Again, all woody plants are indeterminate growers. You may not like that, but that is reality. Get over it! Life is NOT always convenient and controllable. Additionally, if the pruning (butchery in this instance) does not kill the specimen, it certainly deformed it, and the plant will respond by producing several times more new growth than it would have if unpruned, never mind stressing the plant and opening the specimen to disease. Choose an appropriate species and site it thinking long-term. I have more to offer regarding pruning and woody plants in my book Rantings of a Mad Botanist.

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