Plant Health Care in Richmond, VA

Tropical storm shows importance of pruning trees |

with 2 comments

Tropical storm shows importance of pruning trees |

For two consecutive weeks, the Sarasota County Cooperative Extension Service conducted workshops about pruning trees. The timing was perfect, well almost perfect.

The session in Venice, conducted by agent Annmarie Post just before Tropical Storm Debby, attracted a handful of homeowners. A week later, after the storm, more than 50 people gathered in North Port to hear master gardener Valerie Ollinger talk about the same subject.

They had probably watched the storm uproot trees, snap off branches and strew limbs across their neighborhoods, and they wondered if they could have prevented some of the carnage.

The short answer is yes. Some wind damage is just plain freaky and unavoidable, but good planning and judicious maintenance will cut the losses substantially, both experts agree.

When you think of all the money people invest in their homes, it’s surprising how little thought they sometimes put into landscaping, which has the potential to either elevate the value of the property or wreak havoc on it.

The two most common mistakes people make in planting a tree: First, they select the wrong specimen from a nursery. Second, they put it in the wrong spot in their yard.

Good nursery stock should not be rootbound. If the roots have started to circle in the pot, it’s hard to retrain them once they get in the ground. And, most trees should have a single leader, or main stem. Multiple leaders supply a natural point for a tree to split during high winds.

Putting a tree in the right place involves more than avoiding the temptation to plant that “cute little palm” (that will naturally grow to be 40 feet tall) under the eaves. It also involves putting it where it will get the right amount of sun and water.

Post recommends that trees be planted no closer than 20 feet to a structure and no closer than 10 feet to an impervious surface such as a sidewalk or driveway. The latter rule of thumb recognizes that roots will not develop properly if they can’t breathe, leaving the tree susceptible to disease and winds.

Although none of this has anything directly to do with pruning, a healthy tree planted in the right place will need less care of any type.

Post advocates trees such as live oaks, hollies, magnolias, sweet gums, sycamores and bald cypress for their hardiness and ability to withstand winds. Laurel oak, water oak, chinaberry, red maple and pine tend to be brittle and should not be located close to buildings, she says.

Homeowners often inherit trees from previous owners. This is when pruning becomes even more important. “It’s not just that you’re a crazy person, who wants to hack away with your shears,” Ollinger says.

Pruning actually has less to do with aesthetics and more to do with the health of the plant and the safety of the surroundings.

For instance, cutting the inside growth on a tree and thinning branches allows the air to move through it. Lower wind resistance results in less storm damage. Cutting off diseased or damaged limbs also improves the health of a tree.

As usual, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. An example is the so-called “hurricane cut” that less-than-astute trimmers inflict on palms. They leave a tuft of fronds at the top, but in removing other green fronds, they weaken the tree, leaving it vulnerable to disease. In other words, pruning helps a tree if it’s done properly.

Also as always, it pays to do a little research before buying a plant, pruning a plant or even hiring someone to trim. The extension service has a number of free documents on those subjects. Ollinger distributed one called “Pruning Landscape Trees and Shrubs,” by Edward F. Gillman and Robert J. Black.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District is another great source. Ollinger recommends a free, 110-page booklet called “Florida-Friendly Landscaping Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design.” It can be ordered at

Eric Ernst’s column runs Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Contact him at eric.ernst or (941) 486-3073.


Written by vaphc

July 5, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. It is an unfortunate truth, too many homes I’ve seen down the blocks of the streets I’ve lived on in my life, knowing even as a child and a teen, having that blue spruce on your front right next to the main living room window is a MISTAKE. Hahaha. But it takes experience as a gardener to know how to coordinate what- and where.

    -Tony Salmeron

    • Very true Tony. Very true. Thanks for leaving a comment. You get the comment of the week award. Listen to your gardener/arborist. Certified Arborist.


      July 17, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: