Bad power line pruning

Driving home today, I saw this lovely sight:

powerlinepruningOur local utility company has been busy butchering trees around the power lines.

Every plant person I know complains about this, but I honestly don’t think there is much hope for a change. Power companies don’t want limbs falling on the electric cables during storms, and they’re not likely to start spending money to hire real arborists to do the pruning.

What I really wish is that people would start thinking a little more before putting in a tall tree directly under electric lines. I’m sure these went in as cute little babies, I know it can be hard to visualize what a small tree will grow into, but we do really need to do a better job of it. If you are looking to plant, take the time to look up the tree in question and see how fast it is going to grow. Google will usually tell you, and if you are planing conifers, the American Conifer Society has an amazing website which will tell you the growth rates in inches per year of just about any conifer you can imagine. Check it out, and do the math, and see just how fast that little spruce is going to be causing problems before you start digging holes.

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - Books:

5 thoughts on “Bad power line pruning”

  1. Planting trees under power lines – guilty as charged!
    At least the power companies over here employ arboriculturists (of sorts).
    I always insist on being present when they prune!

  2. The last time the power company’s “pruners” came around, they left a note on the door with a list of what they planned to do and said to call if we had questions. That list included topping two spruces and cutting down an oak! I set up an appointment and a very nice guy came out. He said he had no idea why the oak was on the literal chopping block as it’s healthy and not interfering with the lines. He also agreed to have them completely take down the two spruces that were destined to be topped. We got rid of trees we didn’t particularly want (particularly if they were going to be topped) and it all ended well. I hope this continues to be their policy as we have a couple more spruces that are no encroaching on the power lines (and look like those pictures above already) that I wouldn’t mind having taken down to allow in a bit more sun.

  3. I have seen the change for the better, when tree owners spend money to hire real arborists to do the pruning.

    Power companies have standards that guide them to do proper directional pruning to a specified area, but sometimes the tool gets away from the operator.

    The trees pictured could restore their health and appearance, if branches growing parallel to the wires were retained, i.e. directional pruning. When power companies remove trees, tree owners should be compensated for the loss.

    Exposing those trunks by taking previously reduced branches back to their origins was not good for health or looks. Trees change; this is the worst that they will look!

  4. A year ago, someone from Georgia Power (whose new nucular plant’s construction I’m forced to subsidize monthly when I pay my electricity bill) left a nice notice on my door about tree pruning and proper standards (available on the ANSI A300 website: that they would employ.

    I foolishly fell for it, thinking that they were actually employing people who, even if they don’t give a s#*t about trees, would follow standards that were advertised.

    On that ANSI website that they advertised, you’ll find the following:

    “Advisory Notice:

    “Certain pruning practices are not acceptable and can injure trees:

    “Topping: The reduction of a tree’s size using heading cuts that shorten limbs or branches back to a predetermined crown limit.”

    So I came home one evening to find a limb from my favorite tree lying in the street. I backed up, crossing the street, and then saw that at least the top eight feet of my katsura tree had been lopped off. And raggedly.

    I planted my tree away from the power lines knowing that, down the road, some limbs might be pruned from the side of the power lines. I never expected that the people who would be doing the pruning would be so stupid that they would cut the two leaders, which would, obvious to anyone who has ever used his eyes, force the plant to sprawl more heavily towards the power lines.

    I now have a twenty-something-foot-tall ‘Heronswood Globe’.

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