One of the landscape tree production practices that drives me absolutely nuts is heading back trees in the nursery to create “columnar” specimens. It’s easy to find examples of these in Washington state nurseries, like the pathetic oak shown below:
Aesthetics aside, let’s focus on how the tree responds to heading back. The removal of the dominant leader encourages lateral branches below to become more upright; from these laterals, a new leader is selected. This new upright growth habit is highly prized by many landscape architects and urban planners, as such trees fit more neatly into small urban spaces without interfering with vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Sure, it works great for a few years.
Now let’s look at these trees a decade or two later. Branches grow in diameter as well as length. All of these acutely angled branches begin to grow into each other, creating bark inclusions:
What effect do bark inclusions have on the trees? These fused branches are not strongly connected; in fact, they are likely points of branch failure. As these branches become larger and heavier, they can create hazard situations if they are near people or property. What’s happening here in Washington, and probably elsewhere, is that arborists must be hired to prune out some of these branches to reduce the risk of failure and injury.
This…most definitely will lead to this…eventually
I can’t understand why this practice is perceived as “building a better tree.” To me, it looks like creating a maintenance and liability problem down the road.