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Monday, February 10, 2014

Please Dont Prune Your Palo Verde LIke This

I was dumbfounded. I saw it from the bus.
I take the bus to the Orchard in North Las Vegas up Decatur when I go there to teach or just volunteer. I got off the bus and walked over to this tree because it was sooo obvious.

What in the world was going through this person's head? A beautiful tree and its form butchered. The tree could have been pruned with fewer cuts and not so much to clean up after you were done. This will take years to correct by a competent, skilled tree worker.

Some say "arborist" but there are skilled arborists and unskilled arborists. There are skilled tree workers and unskilled tree workers. There are skilled gardeners and unskilled gardeners. Some of the best tree work I have seen was done by an indvidual (now passed) many years ago who had no training (at the time) but was sensitive to the look and needs of the tree. He went on to become an excellent arborist. (Steve Hines where are you?)

Heading cuts. The cuts made at the very top are what I call "heading cuts". They were made anywhere  along the length of a branch. When this is done we call this "topping" a tree. This is not a good idea for many reasons. From the looks of all that growth at the top, the tree has been topped at least one other previous year.

Pruning in the spring invigorates the tree. One heading cut results in three to four new stems growing from buds immediately beneath the cut. One cut branch now = 3-4 new branches that need cutting next year. When topping is done the new growth is prolific. This prolific growth shades the interior canopy resulting in death of branches inside where there is too much shade.

Thinning cuts. Cuts lower on major limbs on this tree were made with what I call "thinning cuts". Thinning cuts are made at a juncture of two limbs leaving one limb remaining. This type of cut should be made 95% of the time when we prune. Thinning cuts leave another branch to take the place of the one just removed. This helps decrease the amount of new growth we get from pruning. This type of cut helps retain the natural form of the tree.

Determine what you want the tree to do. What do we want from the tree? Is it to give shade? Will people walk under the tree? Does the tree need to be shrunken in size? What we expect from the tree dictates how we will prune the tree. Prune with a purpose in mind.

The right approach to pruning a tree like this is to start at the bottom and work up. Make sure the major limbs are necessary. If there are too many, you might consider removing a major limb at the very beginning. This is true particularly if there are just too many larger limbs, if they are crossing, broken or damaged.

If the tree needs to be shorter then identify the limbs that need to be lowered and follow them down inside the canopy to a place where you can make a "thinning cut". Lower the tree's height be identifying each of these limbs that are too tall and reduce their height with thinning cuts.

If the tree is growing toward a building or structure then remove limbs growing in that direction or that will interfere. Make the cuts using what kind of cut? That's right, a thinning cut, not a heading cut.

If we need to allow people or vehicles to pass under the tree identify the offending branch or branches and remove a portion of that limb with what kind of cut? That's right. A thinning cut.

So when do we make a heading cut? Not very often but when we do it is usually for three reasons: increase the density (more new growth; 1 cut=3 to 4 new branches) where the canopy is not dense enough, to add dimensional strength to a limb that is thin and spindly, to increase side branching to increase fruiting or flowering on trees that produce flowers/fruit on spurs.

A correctly pruned landscape tree should not appear to be pruned when it is completed and done right.


  1. AACK!! I am a Master Gardener from the Washington,DC area and can't believe the horrible pruning jobs that many trees get in Las Vegas. There are so many examples of the wrong tree put in the wrong place and then hacked up to force fit the tree to its space. It just makes me want to cry to see this being done. Too many companies have the nerve to call themselves "landscapers" when all they know is to mow and blow...

  2. I hate the butchered look of the hedge trimer fits all look in this area! We could have such beautiful landscaping here. But how to retrain the butchers?

  3. I'm not a pantheist, but seeing that Palo Verde hurts to my core. I'll do my part to rid or at least ridicule other LA's who continue to ignore or even mock the designing plants and trees into the appropriate room for the species in question! (and reach out to those who would hear)

  4. How about an example of the right way to prune a P V.

  5. The owners of the shopping centers or their property managers who hire these incompetent mow and blow landscapers are the ones who need to be contacted and then see if they even care. It could also be part of the city or county code like it is in other towns that the owner of the property must conform to industry good practices and standards when it comes to pruning trees or else be fined. If the fines are large enough for the owners of these shopping malls they might, just might think about who their property managers are hiring to do the landscape work.

    1. Actually what happened after this was quite interesting. I received an email from the head honcho of this property management at first pretty much insulting me and this post. He said I should take some classes on how to prune from a class I was actually teaching and he didn't know it. When he discovered that this was not the right way to prune these trees he invited two very well respected professionals in the community to advise him. He also invited me but I declined. I will track any new developments this next year and see if anything has changed and will post it.