Tree Toppers International has started their robo calling, trying to induce suckers into paying good money for their services. They’re most into it on weekday and Saturday afternoons when it is too cold and wet to be outside. One of their representatives is a guy on television with a silly grin on his face who is selling gutters that don’t clog up and windows that are sold at two for the price of one.

Just kidding. The tree toppers haven’t gone that far … yet. It is only because they haven’t discovered modern telemarketing. P.T. Barnum said a sucker is born every minute. He was wrong. One is born every second.

At any rate, the tree toppers are having a field day. With leaves off the trees, they can get much more devilment packed into every minute their chain saws squall. I know I have preached this sermon before, but in case just one of my three or four readers missed it, this is for you.

Just a short spin around our pleasant and bucolic city and county will reveal numerous (formerly) fine, well-branched oaks, maples and on ad infinitum, sans outer branches, some flat-topped like a 1950s rock singer’s hair, Butch wax and all.

Those pitiful specimens are recent victims of tree topping, one of the most ill-advised, idiotic, inane practices the world has ever known. Why, in Heaven’s name (or the Bad Place’s either) would anybody pay hard-earned money to have perfectly fine, well-placed trees chopped off mercilessly for no good reason?

Yes, well, OK, trees under wires must be regularly flat-topped to keep them out of the wires and falling onto them in ice storms. For that matter, the cost to our excellent and efficient Board of Public Utilities to keep this up year after year is no mean expense and one that could be totally eliminated if people would not plant large growing trees under wires. The 3-foot oak shoot that you plant will, some day, reach far into the air and into wires if not impeded. It is our responsibility as planters to do as my father advised me: use your head for something besides a hat rack. It’s simple: don’t plant an oak or gingko where a crape myrtle or dogwood will do, wires or not.

I picked this day for this column because the tree-topping crime is about to hit the high point of the year. The screaming chain saw brigade will be out in force in the coming weeks and months, and it is up to you to put a stop to it, at least on your property.

There are, believe it or not, tree care companies that know the difference between malicious topping and properly pruning. The latter usually means selective removal of branches at the juncture of a larger branch or the trunk itself, leaving the growth ring at the intersection intact but not leaving an exposed stub, which will soon rot. The decay will creep back into the resulting wound and create a hole that will hold water and cause further damage. And, by the way, the use of tar or other sealer at the wound is no longer recommended. It has been found that untreated wounds heal over faster.

I am going to make a small and benign concession. The horrible Bradford pear trees that get top-heavy and eventually split wide open can be kept for a lot of years with “controlled” topping, i.e., cutting back a lot of large branches to cause an eventual thicket of smaller stuff. This has to be continued for years to have any effect. But why do it in the first place for a sorry tree? Cut the wretched thing down and be done with it.

The tree companies that are on the up and up know how to do it. I have hired one myself to prune up a large yellow poplar and some bald cypresses and their work was excellent. They cleaned up the leavings and left the area spotless.

Don’t expect people that do such hazardous work to do it for low wages. They are risking their necks every time they remove a branch many feet from the ground and they should receive hazard pay.

So help me, a friend of mine reported some years ago he knew of a “pruning” company that had a motto: “Lop, chop or top, we do it all.” Don’t let them do it. Stop the chop!


JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.  

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