Time for another WOW (Why oh why)!

During my nursery visits this summer I came across Taxodium distichum ‘Peve Minaret’, a dwarf cultivar of bald cypress.  I hate it:

Why? Because it’s a crummy specimen. If it’s not quite clear, here is a close up of the double leader:

I’ve ranted a couple of times about the production nursery practice of topping young trees to create fuller crowns (you can see those posts here and here). I’m constantly taken to task for this, with comments along these lines:

1) There’s nothing wrong with it. Customers like the look.

2) After topping the production nursery selects a new leader.

3) If the production nursery doesn’t select a new leader, then the retail nursery should.

4) If the retail nursery doesn’t, then it’s the customer’s job to do it.

5) If the customer doesn’t, then an arborist should catch it.

Somehow it’s always someone else’s responsibility to do the corrective pruning needed to prevent future problems. Yet I have not seen a cogent argument about why this practice is necessary (and “customers like the look” doesn’t count). In fact, a recent email told me I’m approaching this all wrong:

“I think it would be better for you to attack this problem by teaching the maintenance industry on how to remove a few poor branch angles, and make a profit on this, then to tell the consumer that they don’t know what looks good to them.”

Aha. So we get unsuspecting customer to buy a problem tree, then charge them again to fix it!

It’s not like I have to look very hard to find these trees in nurseries. Believe me, they’re everywhere, at least in this part of the country.

So…proponents of this practice. Convince me (1) that there is a valid, evidence-based reason for this practice, and (2) it’s okay for trees like this bald cypress to end up in retail nurseries.

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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 - www.facebook.com/TheGardenProfessors "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - www.facebook.com/groups/GardenProfessors Books: http://www.sustainablelandscapesandgardens.com

12 thoughts on “Time for another WOW (Why oh why)!”

  1. I like that you got the name tag in the photo, with a picture of what the tree should look like!
    And yet, betcha someone will buy this “tree”.

  2. And here I thought I was being subtle, Hank! Yes, I wanted the tag with the “perfect” tree. Wish they’d start making tags with double leaders, poodle cuts, etc. Hmm…I sense a new product!

  3. Ack! You scared me. At first I thought you hated this cultivar, which I’ve been pining for. But you’re right — it’s not a good tree. This is one I’d have sent back on the truck.

  4. Actually the tag picture isn’t a very good specimen either since Peve Minaret is naturally full and dense as it ages. Iseli has a great pic up here http://www.iseli-nursery.com/photopages/TaxodiumdistitchemPeveMinaret.htm I would have rejected this or gotten a full credit and pitched it, it looks like a deer browsed Thuja. At the same time, if this was a full specimen you likely wouldn’t notice the double leader much and pruning it out at this age would ruin the shape for years. Considering it’s a slow growing cultivar that doesn’t get very big, I wouldn’t find a double leader to be horribly offensive on this particular variety. After all it’s not likely to snow-load or become a hazard tree. I try to do as much corrective pruning as possible, but there really isn’t enough time in the day. At the same time, I have trees with great branch structure that just sit in the yard because they aren’t full enough for the average customer. I don’t like Acer ‘Autumn Blaze’ because of its terrible branching structure and propensity to double leader, but people ask for it every year.

  5. Don’t you know bottle brush shaped trees are all the rage these days?

    Plus, the dead lower branches will make it easier to add blue glass bottles to it as it dies at the top.

  6. I’m sorry, but I fail to see why a consumer would purchase this tree. Double leader aside…. its not attractive. Is the buying public really that inane? I guess if you put a 50% off tag on things we buy them because they are “cheap”. We MGs have a challenge ahead of us to take this message past the researcher-grower interface.

  7. I’m sorry, Professor, but you’re looking at this from the point of view of an academic. You expect to see a nicely grown specimen that will eventually become a beautiful mature tree. But the consumer usually doesn’t see it that way. Most have no patience for the slow growth rate of trees and they often don’t plan on being in a home but a few years. They want instant gratification and this specimen is full looking and gives great immediate impact. That doesn’t mean they are right.

    As Wes said, educating the consumer is our challenge, and it’s a difficult one at best. As long as the buyer demands “full” trees, these mutilated specimens will continue to be on the market. How can we combat the customer’s ignorance and their desire for instant landscaping at a cheap price? MGs are in the trenches but it’s going to be a long and hard battle.

  8. Only reason to like topping I can think of: It serves as a quick way to evaluate the quality of a nursery. Selling trees like this? Find somewhere else to shop!

  9. I’m with ya, Linda, this could’ve been fixed in two seconds. A good nursery manager – at whatever level – never goes out into the nursery without thier Felco’s. The better growers are borderline compulsive when it comes to correcting double leaders.

    I’m curious how you’re sure this was due to topping.

  10. Bert, I’m not 100% sure, but it didn’t look like it had been damaged. In any case it was sold to a retail nursery (which, by the way, is one of the biggest and most highly regarded in the Puget Sound region). What respectable production nursery would sell this tree? It should have been culled.

  11. Too bad. It is a cool plant; Peve minaret, not this specimen. Although I wonder if you’re on to something. It’s marketed as narrowly pyamidal ot columnar but I see a lot of younger specimens that seem to want to throw several leaders.

  12. It’s a good thing I don’t take clippers with me when I go shopping at nurseries. I’d be seriously tempted to do corrective pruning. I have on occasion pointed out double leaders to nursery people, and they just shrug.

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