Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Going Topless

Months ago, a truck pulled up in front of my house, and a worker hopped out. As he approached my front door, I noticed the sign on the side of the truck advertised "floor bracing" and "tree service." Right away, that combination gave me pause. When I noticed "tree topping," my hackles rose.

If a so-called tree expert recommends that you top a tree, I have just one word of advice: DON'T!

Topping a tree—even an injured one—only compounds the damage. The tree can never again branch normally. And though eager "tree toppers" might claim that if you engage their services, your tree will never again suffer damage from, say, the type of ice storm that caused the original damage, the opposite is more likely to be the case.

Tree branches are firmly anchored extensions of the trunk or larger branches from which they grow, much like fingers growing out of a hand (only without the joints). Once that natural growth pattern is lopped off, normal branching can no longer take place. Instead, the tree can produce only weakly-connected sprouts (that can actually be rubbed off by hand in their early stages). This epicormic growth is easily disconnected from the tree when burdened by ice or snow. Also, the tree takes on a dense "lollipop" shape that is highly  susceptible to wind damage.

As if that weren't bad enough, topping is a severe shock to the plant—the blunt ends of limbs cannot callus over, so they remain inviting entry points for pests and disease organisms—and the mutilation can severely shorten the lifespan of a tree.

So when the worker knocked on my door and handed me a business card that—again—advertised topping, I couldn't resist. I politely informed him that I would never use a tree service that advocated topping, because that was a practice that no respectable arborist would ever recommend.

My brief lecture didn't send the tree service scrambling to change its ways. Last week, I found another of its  business cards tucked into my door jamb, still advertising tree topping. This serves as a reminder that there are always inept "experts" (and even outright charlatans) out there—I can't help calling them arboreal quacks—ready to do more harm than good.

Let the buyer (or in this case, hirer) beware.

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