Is My Tree or Shrub Too Big?
Written by: Tony Arnoldi, Board Certified Master Arborist WI-0102B
Is my tree or shrub too big? This is perhaps the question homeowners ask me most frequently when requesting pruning advice. The short answer is “no” – trees and shrubs are programmed to grow to their ultimate size and can do so with beauty, strength and grace if we allow them to.
What follows gets more to the point of the request: “Can my tree or shrub be made smaller?” This question is often asked after a storm tips a tree over or causes a large limb to break. Fear can motivate the homeowner to ask for “pruning” that can harm a tree or even increase the likelihood of more damage over time.
Problems with Reducing Size:
- It is always against the tree’s or shrub’s biology
- It always is a stress
- It almost always weakens the tree or shrub, or reduces its lifespan
- It causes it to respond with even more growth, thereby placing the tree or shrub into a shorter pruning cycle in order to keep the reduction gained
That being said, there are ways a professional certified arborist can address the needs a tree/a homeowner has regarding these and other concerns.
Instead of shortening a tree to attempt to reduce storm damage potential, these are appropriate steps to take:
- Prune the limbs that are over a house to obtain necessary clearance
- Reduce excessive length or weight, or remove the limb if these are not viable options.
- Cabling to add reinforcing strength to appropriate limbs may play a role here.
- Pruning to reduce crown density may mitigate the forces that storms can apply to the tree.
Sometimes trees and shrubs just get too big for the area they were intended for. Feedback I have received from homeowners leads me to observe that nearly every tree or shrub gets bigger than they thought or want. Usually this is the result of poor planning or advice. [“The right tree for the right place” is always the goal. Researching growth rate and ultimate size will head off worlds of problems later]. Be careful of using plants that can only temporarily fulfill the needs of the site. When they finally exceed the maximum size that will work, they should be removed and replaced with younger or different plants.
Mainly for shrubs, there are ways to reduce size (reductions cuts, renewal cuts, rejuvenation cuts, heading cuts, and shearing cuts). But these are limited by the amount of plant material that can be removed, or the number of times they can be employed to obtain the reduction. Eventually, the plants still get inexorably larger, inch by inch, or wear out.
Trees are much less tolerant of any of the size reduction tactics listed above for shrubs. When they must be reduced for necessary views (of business or traffic signs), vistas, or containing the tree to a space or property, it is with the knowledge that it may not work forever. It is easier to obtain these reductions for only one side or overall height. It is nearly impossible to reduce the entire tree (height and width) and have this work for but a short time.
Therefore, it is imperative to know what is possible and to explore the various pruning options with your Wachtel Certified Arborist. Contact us today for an evaluation to see where we could help.