There is a traditional tale of a child asking her mother why she always cut the end off of her roasts. The mother replied, “Well, that’s the way my mother always prepared her roasts.” When the grandmother was asked why she cut the end off of her roasts, she replied, “The roast was too big to fit in the pan.”
In many aspects of life we often find ourselves performing tasks in a certain manner without understanding the origins of our actions. Tree pruning is one of those tasks commonly performed without understanding why we prune.
Trees have served a myriad of purposes in human communities. Like today, early pruning was performed in different ways depending upon the purpose. For example, fruit tree pruning was different than shade tree pruning. Modern pruning techniques by trained professionals focus on promoting tree health and strong branching patterns.
A common practice carried over from our past is ‘topping’ or ‘pollarding’ trees where all the branches are removed except for the largest basal branches. Originally these types of cuts were made to encourage rapid growth and make the harvesting of limbs easier from when homes were heated only with wood.
Today these styles of pruning should be avoided. Removing all the branches opens the tree to pests and diseases, makes the tree more prone to storm damage, increases nutrient and water usage, shortens the life of the tree and destroys animal habitat. Also, a topped tree contributes less to property value than a healthy properly pruned tree. Furthermore, such pruning practices are often prohibited by city ordinances. If you are topping a street tree in Lexington, you can expect to receive a fine.