Unexpectedly, tropical storm Sasha regained intensity. Sucked inland by a coastal low pressure system, her arms began to swing tighter and tighter like a figure skater. Hitting the north San Diego beaches, with wind-whipped sheets of water, the storm created a water funnel, a miniature tornado condensed with moving torrents of evaporated ocean.
Touching down lightly at first in an open field, the spout skipped and hopped erratically. The inner core winds slowed slightly with the drag of friction upon the earth; the funnel, heedless of direction, slammed into the coastal condominium complex with heavy momentum.
High above the complex, the eucalyptus trees began to dance. Their tops, unaccustomed to the added weight of the water and wind, began to pirouette crazily. Twisting and turning, moving in random fashion. One by one, the long slender shafts began to break away. Some were carried mercifully away into the open parking lot by the viciously clawing winds, but the heavier trunks became heavy spears thrown toward the Spanish tile far below the broken tree tops.
Disintegrating the tile upon impact, several long pole-like branches punctured the plywood like wet tissue paper. The immense weight of the trunks tore through the joicing to reveal large gaping holes and continued downward onto the slab until the butt of each branch had either come to rest on a solid surface or had crushed and intertwined with the furniture and debris within.
Riveting? Real? Frightening? Yes to all these questions. “But how?” you may ask. Or more importantly, “Why?”
Trees are unusual and wonderful living things. They provide shade when we are hot, oxygen for us to breathe and great beauty for us to admire. As such, these giants among the plant kingdom are extremely complex. Their growth patterns are varied and yet to the ordinary child the simplicity of a tree growing up is commonplace.
Here lies the crux of the problem.
A true arborist would have insisted that the trees involved on this property were never truncated or topped. If it were absolutely necessary, a technique called drop crotching would have been employed in order to reduce the overall height of the tree. This technique allows the arborist to reduce the height of the tree while maintaining a new central stalk or leader. This prevents the formation of weak and bushy sucker growth … often the cause of falling branches.
Most arborists will advise you, tip and lace the tree. Remove not more than 20 to 30 percent of the foliage and structure the overall shape in the form of a vase. This helps the tree overcome the constant pull of gravity and minimizes the amount of new juvenile growth from the latent buds circling each individual trunk or stem.
“All this sounds great,” you might say, “but what about cost?” Well, like the vaudevillian acts of old, you might say there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that cost-wise it’s about the same to lace and tip a tree as it is to top one. However, light pruning should be done annually or the foliage becomes heavy with growth and the same problem involving limb loss can occur.
Trees that have been topped have a tendency to grow very quickly. Drawing from an already established root system that once fed a large tree top, long straight sucker growth climbs vertically with a weak union at the site of the old truncation. This kind of growth is far more dangerous in the long run and can be much more expensive to remove by the arborist because of this inherent weakness.
Classically, most homeowners or associations will come in, whack their trees back for the lowest bid and wait a few years until a storm brings down a few branches as a reminder that their trees need pruning before the checkbook gets pulled out again.
Don’t let this vicious circle catch up to you. The guy with the pickup truck and a ladder isn’t going to help you in the long run. Trees are meant to enhance your environment and increase the value of your home.
Plan ahead and spend your money wisely.
Filed Under: Local Roots