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How to prune this willow?

Wood Butcher

Wood Butcher

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Jan 24, 2006
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83
Location
Illinois
Greetings all,

This willow tree is in my backyard, actually it is on a tiny island in the pond at the side of my house, and it is getting a bit too big for my comfort. I'm comfortable climbing up into it, I'd just like some opinions on what to trim off.



I would like to trim all of the tops off, and I have mixed feelings about the larger branches lower down. Right now, I am thinking about just whacking off most everything except for the 3 main trunks.

I've trimmed fruit trees a bunch, but never an ornamental willow (most willow trimming I've done is done much closer to the ground, say about 3/4"...)

Anyway, everyones advice and opinions is appreciated.

Thanks,

WB
 
clearance

clearance

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Hack away, prune to good laterals. I don't like the one that leans towards your house. You just can't kill that willow stuff, but who am I to say anything, when all I have is a hammer, pretty soon everything starts to look like a nail. Don't be shy.
 
Nickrosis

Nickrosis

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clearance said:
when all I have is a hammer, pretty soon everything starts to look like a nail.
So true! Let me propose something in between. Since you're comfortable climbing, you'll have to get up into the top of the tree or go as high as you feel comfortable and have someone else help. I assume you want to keep your view of the lake, so cut some of the lower limbs for sure. It is cool to have a couple low-hanging ones too.

Then work through the tree removing branches that are crossed and dead - you'll find a lot of dead branches. But don't make big cuts, it's not necessary. When you find 6 branches growing from one spot, prune it back to 2 or 3. I think this would look more attractive than hacking off the tops.


It would be much more filled in with smaller branches, but I hope the idea is coming across.
 
Sprig

Sprig

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Agree with Paul, willows I consider a 'weed' type tree, top the suckers at the 'Y' and leave a few of the lower branches, you'd be suprised how well they'll come back, but do it now when the sap is low. Just my 0.02$ worth.
And work safe mon! Btw, willow is nice wood to burn but is almost always very wet, split it when wet, stack outside and let the wind do the rest. :)
 
treeseer

treeseer

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jps i agree that coppicing is a good treatment for willow UNLESS you want to see under it and you want shade. Then it doesn't fit the owner's goals which are...what? To make it less big? If so, the job can be done with a pole pruner lightly reducing the branches, after the cleaning and thinning that Nick described so well.

To all those recommending cutting it back hard, think about what will happen next--rot down into the trunks, strong sprouting at every cut, and a hazardous tree. Not a good idea.



Why Topping Hurts Trees

Topping is perhaps the most harmful tree pruning practice known. Yet, despite more than 25 years of literature and seminars explaining its harmful effects, topping remains a common practice. This brochure explains why topping is not an acceptable pruning technique and offers better alternatives.

What is Topping?

Topping is the indiscriminate cutting of tree branches to stubs or lateral branches that are not large enough to assume the terminal role. Other names for topping include “heading,” “tipping,” “hat-racking,” and “rounding over.”

The most common reason given for topping is to reduce the size of a tree. Home owners often feel that their trees have become too large for their property. People fear that tall trees may pose a hazard. Topping, however, is not a viable method of height reduction and certainly does not reduce the hazard. In fact, topping will make a tree more hazardous in the long term.

Topping Stresses Trees

Topping often removes 50 to 100 percent of the leaf-bearing crown of a tree. Because leaves are the food factories of a tree, removing them can temporarily starve a tree. The severity of the pruning triggers a sort of survival mechanism. The tree activates latent buds, forcing the rapid growth of multiple shoots below each cut. The tree needs to put out a new crop of leaves as soon as possible. If a tree does not have the stored energy reserves to do so, it will be seriously weakened and may die.

A stressed tree is more vulnerable to insect and disease infestations. Large, open pruning wounds expose the sapwood and heartwood to attacks. The tree may lack sufficient energy to chemically defend the wounds against invasion, and some insects are actually attracted to the chemical signals trees release.

Topping Causes Decay

The preferred location to make a pruning cut is just beyond the branch collar at the branch’s point of attachment. The tree is biologically equipped to close such a wound, provided the tree is healthy enough and the wound is not too large. Cuts made along a limb between lateral branches create stubs with wounds that the tree may not be able to close. The exposed wood tissues begin to decay. Normally, a tree will “wall off,” or compartmentalize, the decaying tissues, but few trees can defend the multiple severe wounds caused by topping. The decay organisms are given a free path to move down through the branches.

Topping Can Lead to Sunburn

Branches within a tree’s crown produce thousands of leaves to absorb sunlight. When the leaves are removed, the remaining branches and trunk are suddenly exposed to high levels of light and heat. The result may be sunburn of the tissues beneath the bark, which can lead to cankers, bark splitting, and death of some branches.

Topping Creates Hazards

The survival mechanism that causes a tree to produce multiple shoots below each topping cut comes at great expense to the tree. These shoots develop from buds near the surface of the old branches. Unlike normal branches that develop in a socket of overlapping wood tissues, these new shoots are anchored only in the outermost layers of the parent branches.

The new shoots grow quickly, as much as 20 feet in one year, in some species. Unfortunately, the shoots are prone to breaking, especially during windy conditions. The irony is that while the goal was to reduce the tree’s height to make it safer, it has been made more hazardous than before.

Topping Makes Trees Ugly

The natural branching structure of a tree is a biological wonder. Trees form a variety of shapes and growth habits, all with the same goal of presenting their leaves to the sun. Topping removes the ends of the branches, often leaving ugly stubs. Topping destroys the natural form of a tree.

Without leaves (up to 6 months of the year in temperate climates), a topped tree appears disfigured and mutilated. With leaves, it is a dense ball of foliage, lacking its simple grace. A tree that has been topped can never fully regain its natural form.

Topping Is Expensive

The cost of topping a tree is not limited to what the perpetrator is paid. If the tree survives, it will require pruning again within a few years. It will either need to be reduced again or storm damage will have to be cleaned up. If the tree dies, it will have to be removed.

Topping is a high-maintenance pruning practice, with some hidden costs. One is the reduction in property value. Healthy, well-maintained trees can add 10 to 20 percent to the value of a property. Disfigured, topped trees are considered an impending expense.

Another possible cost of topped trees is potential liability. Topped trees are prone to breaking and can be hazardous. Because topping is considered an unacceptable pruning practice, any damage caused by branch failure of a topped tree may lead to a finding of negligence in a court of law.

Alternatives to Topping

Sometimes a tree must be reduced in height or spread. Providing clearance for utility lines is an example. There are recommended techniques for doing so. If practical, branches should be removed back to their point of origin. If a branch must be shortened, it should be cut back to a lateral that is large enough to assume the terminal role. A rule of thumb is to cut back to a lateral that is at least one-third the diameter of the limb being removed.

This method of branch reduction helps to preserve the natural form of the tree. However, if large cuts are involved, the tree may not be able to close over and compartmentalize the wounds. Sometimes the best solution is to remove the tree and replace it with a species that is more appropriate for the site.

Hiring an Arborist

Pruning large trees can be dangerous. If pruning involves working above the ground or using power equipment, it is best to hire a professional arborist. An arborist can determine the type of pruning that is necessary to improve the health, appearance, and safety of your trees. A professional arborist can provide the services of a trained crew, with all of the required safety equipment and liability insurance.

When selecting an arborist,

* check for membership in professional organizations such as the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA), or the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA). Such membership demonstrates a willingness on the part of the arborist to stay up to date on the latest techniques and information.
* check for ISA arborist certification. Certified Arborists are experienced professionals who have passed an extensive examination covering all aspects of tree care.
* ask for proof of insurance.
* ask for a list of references, and don’t hesitate to check them.
* avoid using the services of any tree company that
o advertises topping as a service provided. Knowledgeable arborists know that topping is harmful to trees and is not an accepted practice.
o uses tree climbing spikes to climb trees that are being pruned. Climbing spikes can damage trees, and their use should be limited to trees that are being removed.
 
B.Secord

B.Secord

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Canada
In my part of the world, willows tend to be self pruning, especially if the wind can get a run at them. Two things you may want to consider, first, what direction is the predominant wind from and secondly would you feel comfortable with your ability to place your climbing line in a crotch that WILL support you while you do the work? I am not questioning your ability to climb or cut, but warning you of the hazard of working with willow. When i have to work on these tree I always tie into limbs that are substanually larger than other type trees (maple, ash, elm, even poplar).

Willow are forgiving to any type of pruning, remember though, if you cut to heartwood it will have long term implications.;)
 
Diesel JD

Diesel JD

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Sep 17, 2005
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Age
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Location
Gainesville, FL
use caution

Be careful with those willows! Once I tore one up and wound up killing it. It was a cool tree I was sad to see it go. I don't know if it was my sorry pruning techniques or the aberrant weatehr we ahd that year that really did it in. But I was going to tell you, the wood is weak and brittle, especially if it's dead but even alive...look out. I threw my rope over this same tree and started to pull myself up on it and it cracked! I was fortunate not to be more than 2' off teh ground at teh time and even if I fell flat on my butt from teh 20' or less that it was onto the soft dirt I prob. would have lived with no major injuries...but I say prune out the hazardous branches the way these real pros tell you and be very careful climbing it.
J.D.
 
rebelman

rebelman

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You might remove the one closest to the house(like pb said), and even the fork of the other toward the house. Then you have a fairly natural plant left, and many concerns are addressed(plenty of whacking, better view). This should be better long term, willow is weak to begin with, topping makes them fall apart or die quickly. Read treeseers post and take it literal. Also tend the root zone.
 
Wood Butcher

Wood Butcher

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Jan 24, 2006
Messages
83
Location
Illinois
Thanks for the replies everyone. I've taken a few more pics that show the tree from a different angle, I'll hopefully get them posted tomorrow.

I live in a little hollow, so I'm protected from the wind quite a bit but a big concern is this tree is on a small island (you see it better with the other pics) Also, I'd like to keep all the main trunks as I'm planning on building a small treehouse with my kids at some point. At any rate, I'll post some other angles tomorrow.
 
(WLL)

(WLL)

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thank u treeseer

treeseer said:
jps i agree that coppicing is a good treatment for willow UNLESS you want to see under it and you want shade. Then it doest't fit the owner's goals which are...what? To make it less big? If so, the job can be done with a pole pruner lightly reducing the branches, after the cleaning and thinning that Nick described so well.

To all those recommending cutting it back hard, think about what will happen next--rot down into the trunks, strong sprouting at every cut, and a hazardous tree. Not a good idea.



Why Topping Hurts Trees

Topping is perhaps the most harmful tree pruning practice known. Yet, despite more than 25 years of literature and seminars explaining its harmful effects, topping remains a common practice. This brochure explains why topping is not an acceptable pruning technique and offers better alternatives.

What is Topping?

Topping is the indiscriminate cutting of tree branches to stubs or lateral branches that are not large enough to assume the terminal role. Other names for topping include “heading,” “tipping,” “hat-racking,” and “rounding over.”

The most common reason given for topping is to reduce the size of a tree. Home owners often feel that their trees have become too large for their property. People fear that tall trees may pose a hazard. Topping, however, is not a viable method of height reduction and certainly does not reduce the hazard. In fact, topping will make a tree more hazardous in the long term.

Topping Stresses Trees

Topping often removes 50 to 100 percent of the leaf-bearing crown of a tree. Because leaves are the food factories of a tree, removing them can temporarily starve a tree. The severity of the pruning triggers a sort of survival mechanism. The tree activates latent buds, forcing the rapid growth of multiple shoots below each cut. The tree needs to put out a new crop of leaves as soon as possible. If a tree does not have the stored energy reserves to do so, it will be seriously weakened and may die.

A stressed tree is more vulnerable to insect and disease infestations. Large, open pruning wounds expose the sapwood and heartwood to attacks. The tree may lack sufficient energy to chemically defend the wounds against invasion, and some insects are actually attracted to the chemical signals trees release.

Topping Causes Decay

The preferred location to make a pruning cut is just beyond the branch collar at the branch’s point of attachment. The tree is biologically equipped to close such a wound, provided the tree is healthy enough and the wound is not too large. Cuts made along a limb between lateral branches create stubs with wounds that the tree may not be able to close. The exposed wood tissues begin to decay. Normally, a tree will “wall off,” or compartmentalize, the decaying tissues, but few trees can defend the multiple severe wounds caused by topping. The decay organisms are given a free path to move down through the branches.

Topping Can Lead to Sunburn

Branches within a tree’s crown produce thousands of leaves to absorb sunlight. When the leaves are removed, the remaining branches and trunk are suddenly exposed to high levels of light and heat. The result may be sunburn of the tissues beneath the bark, which can lead to cankers, bark splitting, and death of some branches.

Topping Creates Hazards

The survival mechanism that causes a tree to produce multiple shoots below each topping cut comes at great expense to the tree. These shoots develop from buds near the surface of the old branches. Unlike normal branches that develop in a socket of overlapping wood tissues, these new shoots are anchored only in the outermost layers of the parent branches.

The new shoots grow quickly, as much as 20 feet in one year, in some species. Unfortunately, the shoots are prone to breaking, especially during windy conditions. The irony is that while the goal was to reduce the tree’s height to make it safer, it has been made more hazardous than before.

Topping Makes Trees Ugly

The natural branching structure of a tree is a biological wonder. Trees form a variety of shapes and growth habits, all with the same goal of presenting their leaves to the sun. Topping removes the ends of the branches, often leaving ugly stubs. Topping destroys the natural form of a tree.

Without leaves (up to 6 months of the year in temperate climates), a topped tree appears disfigured and mutilated. With leaves, it is a dense ball of foliage, lacking its simple grace. A tree that has been topped can never fully regain its natural form.

Topping Is Expensive

The cost of topping a tree is not limited to what the perpetrator is paid. If the tree survives, it will require pruning again within a few years. It will either need to be reduced again or storm damage will have to be cleaned up. If the tree dies, it will have to be removed.

Topping is a high-maintenance pruning practice, with some hidden costs. One is the reduction in property value. Healthy, well-maintained trees can add 10 to 20 percent to the value of a property. Disfigured, topped trees are considered an impending expense.

Another possible cost of topped trees is potential liability. Topped trees are prone to breaking and can be hazardous. Because topping is considered an unacceptable pruning practice, any damage caused by branch failure of a topped tree may lead to a finding of negligence in a court of law.

Alternatives to Topping

Sometimes a tree must be reduced in height or spread. Providing clearance for utility lines is an example. There are recommended techniques for doing so. If practical, branches should be removed back to their point of origin. If a branch must be shortened, it should be cut back to a lateral that is large enough to assume the terminal role. A rule of thumb is to cut back to a lateral that is at least one-third the diameter of the limb being removed.

This method of branch reduction helps to preserve the natural form of the tree. However, if large cuts are involved, the tree may not be able to close over and compartmentalize the wounds. Sometimes the best solution is to remove the tree and replace it with a species that is more appropriate for the site.

Hiring an Arborist

Pruning large trees can be dangerous. If pruning involves working above the ground or using power equipment, it is best to hire a professional arborist. An arborist can determine the type of pruning that is necessary to improve the health, appearance, and safety of your trees. A professional arborist can provide the services of a trained crew, with all of the required safety equipment and liability insurance.

When selecting an arborist,

* check for membership in professional organizations such as the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA), or the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA). Such membership demonstrates a willingness on the part of the arborist to stay up to date on the latest techniques and information.
* check for ISA arborist certification. Certified Arborists are experienced professionals who have passed an extensive examination covering all aspects of tree care.
* ask for proof of insurance.
* ask for a list of references, and don’t hesitate to check them.
* avoid using the services of any tree company that
o advertises topping as a service provided. Knowledgeable arborists know that topping is harmful to trees and is not an accepted practice.
o uses tree climbing spikes to climb trees that are being pruned. Climbing spikes can damage trees, and their use should be limited to trees that are being removed.
trees look like a beauty hire a citified arborist to avoid harming tree. the minute i saw the post i hoped treeseer would reply. do not hack/whack looks like tree is in a great location and doing well maby use some type of cable 2 help u sleep better. when properly installed should prevent major failure of large trunk failure;)
 
Climb020

Climb020

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For both of them I would just do clean out the dead would and conflicting limbs and then thin the tree out completely. The one on the left though looks like it could have some problems. Though I cannot see very well from the pic. the crotch of the main trunks doesn't look so go. Check it out to see if there is included bark and if so the cable it up. It's not a good idea to make and large cuts on these. They are a brittle tree and will rot most likely before some of the large wounds would heal. But it looks like they already where whacked once so you may already have problems but again need more pics. do make a proper diagnosis.
 
turnkey4099

turnkey4099

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From the brushy look on top I think they have been topped at least once in the past. Compare with the one at the far right side of the picture (that may not have been a willow though).

Harry K
 
(WLL)

(WLL)

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Climb020 said:
For both of them I would just do clean out the dead would and conflicting limbs and then thin the tree out completely. The one on the left though looks like it could have some problems. Though I cannot see very well from the pic. the crotch of the main trunks doesn't look so go. Check it out to see if there is included bark and if so the cable it up. It's not a good idea to make and large cuts on these. They are a brittle tree and will rot most likely before some of the large wounds would heal. But it looks like they already where whacked once so you may already have problems but again need more pics. do make a proper diagnosis.
trees never heal they can only seal. thin-out/gut is never a good idea. making assumptions that u cant c is not a good idea. prescriptions without proper diagnostics is malpractice. a lot of climbers are not arborists.:clap:
 
(WLL)

(WLL)

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that is very true

beowulf343 said:
And an awful lot of arborists aren't climbers.
i think all arbs should be trained how 2 saftly climb. its rare around here 2 c a top climbing arborist that is very productive but im on that list
 
Chucky

Chucky

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(WLL) said:
i think all arbs should be trained how 2 saftly climb. its rare around here 2 c a top climbing arborist that is very productive but im on that list
One of my classmates at Paul Smiths College, '92 can't climb, but he's one of the best arborists I know, now at Bartlett research labs in NC. He has muscular dystrophy.
 
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