Today I was immersed in bizarre light due to Hurricane Ophelia blasting her tail end around Isleworth. There was the feeling of an eclipse in the air, beautiful grey billowing clouds with a pink tinge…
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, pollarding is a type of tree work that works to limit the growth of trees and shrubs to manageable sizes. Annual pollarding can provide the following benefits:
- Prevents trees and shrubs growing beyond the space allotted to them
- Reduces the shade cast by a tree
- Prevents electric wires and streetlights being obstructed in the street
Not all trees and plants benefit from this kind of tree work. Here are some that will:
- London plane (Platanus × hispanica)
- Gum (Eucalyptus)
- Elder (Sambucus)
- Oak (Quercus)
- Tulip tree (Liriodendron)
- Elm (Ulmus)
- Common lime (Tilia × europaea)
- Ash (Fraxinus)
- Mulberry (Morus)
- Some species of Acer (A. negundo and its cultivars)
Tree work as maintenance for young trees
You can begin pollarding once the young tree has reached its desired height. Typically a tree trunk will be left to support three to five branches, these being cut back to the required length. New branches grow quickly from under the bark and strengthens where the shoots meet the trunk. Over a period of years a ‘pollard head’ swells where new shoots grow each year.
Maintaining a pollard
Once pollarded there should be an annual cycle of cutting to maintain the pollard. Branches are carefully cut just above the previous pollarding cuts or, in some cases, may be left to grow if some leaf cover is required.
Tree work done correctly is good for the tree, the environment and everyone who has to live with it. Tree work done bad is a nightmare to behold. By all means give it a go if you know what you’re doing, but remember, the consequences of your actions will be around for a long, long time to come. Do the right thing give your local tree surgeon a call!
Pollarding, as a form of tree trimming, is often seen in the streets of West London (Chiswick High Road, or Hampton for example) where tall beautiful Plane trees have had their most recent growth taken back down to the ‘knuckles’.
Avenues lined with Plane trees look sculptural, artistic, magnificent and certainly give a sense of how insignificant we are next to them! Because of their peeling bark, these trees are often placed next to busy roads as they absorb city fumes.
So what is pollarding and why this method of tree trimming?
Pollarding is a form of tree trimming that’s been around since medieval times.
It’s commonly used as a way of controlling growth in areas that can’t accommodate the tree’s full size, mainly in busy towns and cities or in gardens with close neighbours. It is best suited to young trees that react well to wounding, reducing the risk of decay. It also keeps the tree young and allows for a longer life.
The best time to pollard is in late Winter or early Spring before the leaves have grown. You should cut back the central leader (top upright of the main trunk) to the level of the lateral branches. Remove branches that crisscross and any lower shoots from the trunk of the tree.
You can pollard every one or two years and new stems should be cut back close to the main trunk without cutting into it. This encourages new growth.
Once pollarding has been done it should be continued. This may seem expensive but lapsed pollarding can lead to much more surgery further down the line if larger growth higher up the tree needs to be removed.
Most trees do not respond well to this method of tree trimming. Horse chestnuts are sensitive to this procedure but it can be done…carefully. Limes, Ash and Sycamores respond well but again, this needs to be started when the tree is not ridiculously huge. You’ll kill it or certainly do irreparable damage.
Why do we prune trees and what is pruning?
Like the English language there are rules to pruning trees but then there are always exceptions to those rules. Frustrating innit? You think you know what to do but then find out it’s completely wrong! Most people know that Pruning trees is good practice, cutting back to aerate, to bring on a burst of new growth by cutting out the old. But there are certain things to remember when doing this:
1. Don’t cut back too hard – this is harmful to the tree as it often loses its natural shape and throws out ‘panic growth’ thinking it’s going to die
2. Cut the tree at the correct time of the year – most are cut during the winter months when the majority of trees are dormant (sleepy trees). But as usual, there are a few that are sensitive to winter pruning – cherries and magnolias for example
3. Pruning trees needs to be done in the right way. And what is the right way? I hear you shout. Contact me and I’ll come and show you…
Why is pruning trees necessary?
There are a number of answers. Can you imagine never cutting your hair or nails? Mmm, nice… And if you venture into natural woods and forests, you’ll see many trees have toppled over or branches are hanging off, and some struggle for light. Unmanaged, majestic trees can look forlorn and tragic. By pruning and careful management, trees will not only look fantastic, they will be healthy, bring a smile to your face and provide an array of advantages to wildlife and the environment. That should make you feel good. Caring for your trees means you are taking responsibility for them, demonstrating that you care about where you live – and that’s important; healthy trees usually means a healthy neighbourhood.
Pruning fruit trees is a whole different ball game…and a bit complicated if you don’t know what you’re doing. Fruit trees are pretty. I like fruit trees. They give blossom, lovely aromas that fill the gardens and streets, provide food for bees (which in turn makes my porridge taste good), produce fruit, and finally, their owners talk about these trees as having fascinating histories and characters. It’s as though they are part of the family!
What could all this mean?? Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring, all will be revealed.
Topping and lopping are pretty much the same thing; it’s a technique used to control the height of a tree. We use it mainly on conifers, spruces and cypresses like the Leylandii, (the trees people love or hate – a bit like Marmite). It doesn’t always look pretty, but sometimes it’s the only option. Too often, people plant Leylandii to ‘screen’ off the neighbours, but then forget to prune them (the trees, not the neighbours), or they sell the house and leave the trees to grow. Before you know it they’re 40′ tall…
I try to avoid topping/lopping other types of trees – it just looks awful and destroys the natural character of the tree.
Espalier. What’s that then? Can you say it? If not, don’t worry…it’s French. If you put on a vaguely French accent, it’ll sound right. You need patience to Espalier – it is the ancient agricultural practice of controlling woody plant growth originally for the production of fruit. By pruning and tying branches to a frame they grow into a flat plane, often in formal shapes. It’s best to train the trees against a structure such as a wall, fence, or trellis. But as I say, it takes patience – it’s not something done over one or two years. It can look fantastic when done well. It’s usually done to fruit trees, but some Acers and Magnolias can look amazing using this technique.
Coppicing is rarely done in urban gardens. If you have any Hazel, Beech, Hornbeam, Alder, Willow, Ash or Sycamore that are getting a bit too big, instead of taking them out completely, you can cut these trees almost down to the ground at the stumps. This will encourage new growth around the base which in turn, can be coppiced in the following years (depending on the type of tree). It can look really lovely, adding extra visual features to your garden.
Pleaching is an odd term…again, not often seen or done in urban gardens anymore – nowadays it’s used more as a way to lay a hedge, to set a boundary or to fence in animals. Pleaching is the technique of interweaving living and dead branches through a hedge. Sapling trees are planted in lines, the branches are woven together to strengthen and fill any weak spots until the hedge thickens. Branches in close contact may grow together to form a natural graft. It can be seen in some formal gardens – the French and Belgians seem to like it. I saw pleached Horse chestnut trees in a park on my last visit to Brussels, so anything is possible. The Belgians are an unusual lot aren’t they? (Nice chocolate though).