WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER REMOVE A LARGE TREE LIMB

Our relationship with urban trees can sometimes be… complicated. Although we consider them an indispensable  part of our landscape and ecosystem, the fact is, sometimes they get in the way. When given the choice between safety, function, and even aesthetics, trees often get the short end of the stick (Ha…stick). But did you know by trying to solve your tree problems  you may actually be creating a much larger and irreversible issue for yourself down the road? These 4 reasons are why.

WATER SPROUTS

Hoping removing that limb would lead to a lower maintenance tree? Seems logical that less tree should equal less trouble. Unfortunately nature has other plans.

Even if you’ve never heard the name water sprouts; if you own a maple, apple, willow, or poplar, you’re all to familiar with this affliction. 

These more “nervous” tree species react to stress with an explosion of hydra like growth, mainly observed as clusters of differently coloured branches from the wound area.

This irregular growth can be problematic for a number of reasons. 

  • Firstly, these branches grow about 4X the rate of regular wood. Some pulling off a staggering 6-8′ per year. Since a forest tree has to compete vigorously for its hard earned patch of sunlight, loosing a significant stem can mean certain doom. To cope with this many trees go into hyper drive in hopes of reclaiming their life sustaining canopy position. Which means you’ll have more interfering branches and leaves than you started with in short order.
  • They’re highly unstable. A combination of factors including; poor quality wood and unstable attachments, mean that within just a few years, these now fairly substantial limbs, are prone to breaking off and causing exactly the damage you hoped to avoid by removing the limb initially. 
  • They look awful. No matter how much you hack and prune, this part of the tree can never be restored to a natural looking growth habit.

ROOT LOSS

Root loss? I thought we were talking about branches… Well surprise again!

As a general rule, everything that happens above ground on a tree, has a mirrored impact below the belt.

Since the canopy creates food for the root system through photosynthesis, significant loss of leaves, means significant loss of roots.

This might not be a big deal if all the roots did was supply water back to the canopy, but guess what else they do… hold the tree up!

Since you can never be sure which portion of the valuable root system will be effected, the imbalance of the trees canopy could be multiplied many times by loss of corresponding anchor roots. 

Once again, your efforts to create a safer tree have been thwarted by nature.

ROT

This one might seem a bit more obvious, but the scope and severity of it is often underestimated. 

The heartwood of the tree, which provides much of the structure, isn’t actually living tissue. This means that when exposed to the elements, the inside of your tree will decay as fast as a moist log left on the ground.

This effect is compounded by the fact that trees cannot heal (seal off) large wounds (would you expect to heal up naturally if your limb was removed?)

This is a particular concern for willow and poplar which are notoriously fast decomposing wood types.

ITS JUST PLAIN NOT NICE

Call me a tree hugger, but I have reservations in general about evasively mutilating living things if it can be avoided (of course I know it can’t always be). Interesting research in recent years has revlealed that a surprising variety of plants produce Acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin), which has led many scientists to ponder “why would an organism that can’t feel pain produce so much pain killer”. A chilling thought, I know…

THEN WHAT DO I DO

We’ve been around, and seen just about every urban tree situation there is. We know that sometimes that limb has just got to go. 

But there is more often than not, a pruning alternative. Solutions can include selective reductions and multi-stage training. Although potentially more upfront work, the medium to long term return can sometimes be the difference between preserving a heritage tree for another century, or having to foot the cost of a full removal just a few years after paying for the pruning work.

This is where the maxim “The measure of a great arborist is how many trees they can save, not how many they can cut down” really epitomizes the value of a knowledgeable, experienced, and most of all, passionate professional.

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