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Extreme Tree Pruning: Pollarding and Crape Murder

Let’s face it; sometimes folks get a little too pruner-happy. Power tools can be seductive and once we’ve bought them we want to get our money’s worth. But it’s easy to take pruning too far. Now, there are some long-accepted forms of “extreme pruning”, such as Pollarding; but they must be done properly.

Pollarding is a pruning technique that has been used since medieval times. Originally, it was a way to produce a regular source of fire kindling from larger trees without killing them. By heavily pruning the tops of trees, masses of thin green growth appears each season. The technique evolved into a way to keep trees more compact for tight urban environments.

Halleck Crapemurder

Around the Dallas and Fort Worth area, crape myrtles are one of the most popular shrubs to pollard. Unfortunately, the extreme pruning performed on crape myrtles is not done properly and is often referred to as “crape murder”. While it may seem that crape myrtles produce more blooms after pollarding (or “topping” as is more accurate based on what we see), this type of extreme pruning eventually causes large knotted “knuckles” that are unsightly severely hinder the overall health of the tree. Over time, this type of pruning can delay and shorten bloom-time as well as cause overall health problems for the plant.

Crape myrtles should have a graceful, vase-like shape with blooms growing evenly on branches all over the tree. One of the best features of crape myrtles is their beautiful smooth bark. Pollarding not only ruins this feature, but it also causes very thin weak branches to grow out en masse from the cuts.These shoots are weaker and can often break under the weight of the blooms. You’re better off planting the variety of crape myrtle that will grow to the right size for the space, rather than topping one that is too large for your landscape.

A properly pollarded tree can live a long and healthy life. But it needs regular and appropriate maintenance. Certain trees, such as willows, maples, redbuds and mulberry can tolerate pollarding better than other trees. If you choose to pollard a tree in your landscape, you’ll need to remove all the shoots every two years. If you stop pruning a pollarded tree, the cut branches will eventually become weak, allowing moisture to get into the branches at the cuts, and the tree could perish. This happens often with crape myrtles. Pollarding is best done by a certified arborist who will know and understand where and why to make the best cuts. Done properly, this technique can be very beneficial in the landscape, especially when a tree must be maintained at a certain size.

So what happens if my tree is over pruned?

Call your favorite arborist! Some trees might be able to be rehabilitated. But many times, the tree may need to be removed all together. Only a certified arborist can help you make this decision accurately. However, if you moved into a home with a crape myrtle that had this type of pruning, you can often cut the tree all the way to the ground in early spring and grow properly from the roots.

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