Restoration of Two Topped Siberian Elms

Posted by shane - January 27, 2012 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Pruning Techniques, Trees - No Comments

I live in Red Deer, which is home to a number of unsavory tree “service” companies.  I’m talking about guys who don’t understand tree biology, tree health, or horticulture.  They know how to cut trees with chainsaws and that’s where it ends.  They get their work by perpetuating old wives tales and myths, and by taking advantage of people’s fears, by selling them on the “hazards” of their landscape trees.  After many decades of such abusive business practices, our city is left with hundreds, if not thousands, of mutilated and decaying trees.  Many of these trees are now hazards, inadvertently created by tree-cutters who were unaware of the harmful effects of poor pruning practices.

On the positive side of things, I spend a good portion of my year restoring “topped” landscape trees for my clients.  Some are very rotten and are best removed and replaced, but many are salvageable over a period of several years, providing that they are still growing vigorously and are not extensively decayed.

A year ago, I started restoration on two Siberian Elms in the Woodlea neighbourhood.  I have these trees on a two-year pruning cycle, at which time I will selectively thin each “knuckle” (or old topping site), retrain new leading branches, and redirect lateral branches to form the main scaffolding of the tree canopies.

This picture shows the elms before I started the restoration process.  The south tree is the one closest to us in the picture and is the better of the two.  Both trees were severely wounded, the topping cuts exceeding 6″ in diameter.  As a result, decay has entered the trunks.

My hope is that the root systems are healthy, and that the new vigorous growth is able to outgrow the rot that is developing in the trunks. The trees were topped 4-5 years ago and the resulting growth had not been touched.  The branches were messy, tangled, lacked structure, and many of them had to be removed.

I was as pleased with the result as I could be, considering what I had to work with.  With all the dead and diseased wood removed, as well as all the redundant growth, the trees took on a much cleaner and more structured look.  One of my goals was to restore some dignity to the trees.

Elms in the summer following initial restoration pruning

While the process involves patience, and some financial input, it is possible to improve the health and look of previously mutilated trees in the landscape, and enjoy the benefits they produce (shade, privacy, dust and noise barriers), without having to wait the many years that it would take to grow new trees. That said, topping has reduced the life expectancy of the trees, and eventually, a new planting plan will have to be considered to replace the elms.

(c) 2012 Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service, Red Deer, AB