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Mature tree pruning, but cannot find a quality arborist

 
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I have a couple of trees around my property that are substantial - 50-100+ years old. One in particular near the house I believe would benefit from some work to lighten the canopy, lift it and repair what looks like some previous poor work (water sprouts up high etc). I am happy (although inexperienced, but enthusiastic) about pruning smaller trees and would even have a go at felling a tree, but these to me look like more technical and difficult cuts. I do all of my work by hand, do not own nor have any experience with a chainsaw (chainsaws like many power tools are just not as standard in the arsenal for the average UK homeowner / small holder). I prefer hand tool work anyway generally.

I'm interested in maintaining or improving the health of the tree best I can and making sure the pruning cuts are correct. I've been in touch with ALL of the firms near me offering services (south west UK), but having looked at their work, I am extremely concerned that they would do a poor job. The whole industry in this country seems to be beset by individuals who can use a chainsaw competently, but have either no knowledge of or no interest in, tree health for the long term. The only one whose work seemed of a better quality arranged a date with me, never showed up and I'm now told is wrapping up his business and retiring..

There aren't many to choose from here - only a few as we are quite rural and I guess people are more inclined to just fell a tree if thats an option. I've gone so far as to look into training in this myself, but the costs are very high - £3,000 / $4,000+ to be trained up anywhere near properly. I could spend circa £1,000 / $1,250 but that would enable me only to fell trees on the ground circa 300mm diameter, with a chainsaw.

I guess I'm interested in finding out if anyone has had similar experience, of needing some more technical work done with their trees, but have either taken it on themselves (so what did you do, any training, how did it go, what precautions did you take?) or found their solution some other way.
 
pollinator
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Location: France, Burgundy, parc naturel Morvan
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I have pruned many trees. No official training, just a good book about it, sharp tools, good ladders.

Be in the tree and look and think, which branch is damaged, which branch needs to go to get more air and light in, if i take out a big branch, it will cause a lot of imbalance because it has too much energy and will put it into sprouts everywhere. So go slow on whole branches..

One old tree was especially tricky, have been doing it for 5 years. Just started to get it under control. Meaning two hours of taking small branches=sprouts out and the apples it produced got bigger.
The owner sadly passed away this year, but the tree was very much to her liking. So much so it figured in full bloom on her mourning card.

Trees are special, if you can't find someone who cares, do it yourself. Go slow, really take your time just to observe. In and away from the tree. Don't go and say now i'm gonna get this done without looking, just looking at the structure. Get to know it. Look which branches could still grow when you take one "wrong" placed out etc.

Have you taken a picture? Maybe you'd not mind sharing..
 
Mj Lacey
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Hugo Morvan wrote:I have pruned many trees. No official training, just a good book about it, sharp tools, good ladders.

Be in the tree and look and think, which branch is damaged, which branch needs to go to get more air and light in, if i take out a big branch, it will cause a lot of imbalance because it has too much energy and will put it into sprouts everywhere. So go slow on whole branches..

One old tree was especially tricky, have been doing it for 5 years. Just started to get it under control. Meaning two hours of taking small branches=sprouts out and the apples it produced got bigger.
The owner sadly passed away this year, but the tree was very much to her liking. So much so it figured in full bloom on her mourning card.

Trees are special, if you can't find someone who cares, do it yourself. Go slow, really take your time just to observe. In and away from the tree. Don't go and say now i'm gonna get this done without looking, just looking at the structure. Get to know it. Look which branches could still grow when you take one "wrong" placed out etc.

Have you taken a picture? Maybe you'd not mind sharing..



Thanks Hugo. I'm happy to try as I say - I would be more than happy to read and by guided by a quality book - could you recommend one in particular? I've been looking at the Illustrated Guide to Pruning by Edward Gilman. Expensive, but seems to be well thought of. There is alot of advice around for young trees, but this seems to be a better resource for what to do for more mature trees or trees left alone for a long time - that seems to be lacking online.

This is the tree in question, this image looks pretty much dead south, the house is circa 2ft to the right of the image. I've pruned a little in three spots as you can see, where stumps were left on the tree and sprouts were abundant. The right most stump in the image had black running right the way through so disease was on its way in. I've cut back to the collar best I can with a pole saw. It certainly won't be any worse shape than it was.

In my view there are a number of branches here that are all starting to get near 30-50% of the size of the leader and if they are to be dealt with, it will need to be sooner rather than later. There are also branches growing laterally towards, away from and at right angles to the house. There is no doubt alot of torque in those branches. Any view on how to tackle this appreciated and any thoughts on the book too.
IMG_20200506_092346.jpg
Looking south
Looking south
 
Hugo Morvan
pollinator
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Location: France, Burgundy, parc naturel Morvan
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Hi Mj Lacey, what-a-beauty!
I can imagine you like to be good to this one.
The book i have is but a classic from the RHS Encyclopedia of practical gardening:pruning.
Which is a clear and compact book, but geared towards young trees as you point out. I like to say that people i know have a very complicated book, which is so detailed it dazzled me. They never got around to pruning their trees which i could imagine. I've given a crack course and now they "get" it. So there is that, too much complication can confuse and immobilize.
Maybe some retired tree surgeon gives courses around where you are? Worth to check!
If i want to cut a branch of which i am afraid it's going to be so heavy it will tear itself off and leave an ugly wound, i first cut in the bottom of the branch up towards the sky until it starts to jam because the pressure of the branch is shutting the slice cut, jamming the saw blade. And then from above down a half an inch ish further away from the stem down towards the earth, this is easy, because the weight of the branch will open the cut and the sawblade will be easy to move.. If a branch is really heavy, i attach a cord around it and throw it over a branch higher up, and someone will hold the rope at the floor, slowly releasing it down.
Your tree is a lot bigger than i imagined though. Maybe good to read the book you chose, observe the tree decide on which branches are being taken out exactly, climb in, mark them with tape and have some dude come take it out with a chainsaw, then clean up the mess with a handsaw yourself after. Because it's so high and heavy it's pretty risky. All sorts of things can go wrong when a skilled worker does it. But i don't know you at all. You might be an incredible handy person, but also very clumsy. If you fall into the latter category, you are like most normal people, but then i cannot really foresee all the errors you could make that will lead to bad injuries. If you are handy, but inexperienced, i wouldn't even advice to attack this job, just because of the height.
I've seen a very skilled very experienced gardener put a ladder against a branch and cut it to the right of him, to his surprise, when the branch fell, the branch lifted a lot more than expected, his ladder fell flat on the floor. he held with one hand on to the tree, breaking his fall. The running chainsaw too heavy for his one right hand swung down, missing his leg by an inch.. Holding on not to drop the chainsaw. Greedy fool.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for men and women alike trying everything, but it takes time to build up experience, and when young building up strength is an option too.
Once someone has done the heavy lifting and framework to get the tree in shape, i think you can do the rest yourself when well thought out. Maybe from a ladder with these telescopic handled tree pruners.
Be safe!  
 
master gardener
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Like Hugo mentioned, what a beautiful tree!

Some questions I might would look into, that would involve possibly doing nothing as a time and money saving option depending on your situation.


Does it need pruning?

Its kind of hard to tell from the photo, but it looks super healthy with a nice natural form.


What kind of tree is it?

It may have a common and healthy shape for that variety of tree.


Does the variety of tree have breakage issues?

If the variety does not tend to have branches break easily,  pruning may not be necessary and could even make the tree less healthy.


Could pruning do more damage than help?

Older trees tend to respond to pruning by sending up an army of new watersprouts to replace the removed growth, which could make the tree unsightly or unhealthy. Cutting off large branches can also open the tree up to diseases or insect damage, and large pruning wounds can take a very long time to heal.


Best of luck with a great looking tree!
 
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I agree with those that commented on what a beautiful tree it is. I can't see a single reason, from the trees point of view, that it needs any trimming at all. It's a glorious mature tree. I bet it's been there a 100 years at least. I wouldn't do a thing to it except protect it's root zone, no digging, no equipment at all, nothing but  a lawn chair or just a blanket where I could recline and listen to it's stories.  You say your in the UK? That tree probably remembers the sound of Hitler's Luftwaffe, the last thing I'd expose it to is the roar of a chain saw.

Disclaimer:
I am the proverbial tree freak. When I had the forester out to check my woods so I could put my land in "forest reserve" and not have to pay taxes I didn't know what "forest reserve" meant. Turns out it means chop then down for highest profit. He encouraged me to go ahead and harvest a stand of hard maples, some as big as your tree, said I should do that before a storm or something reduces their value.

I politely told hem he had overstayed his welcome and as far as the trees were concerned, they could die of old age and rot where they fall.
 
pollinator
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It looks like an English oak which although it's hard to estimate the girth would put it around the 150 year old mark. it also looks very healthy if a bit unsympathetically pruned, I assume because it shades other things. Lifting or thinning the canopy will not benefit the tree, though it may benefit you and anything you wish to put under it.
 
pollinator
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MJ

Regarding opinions on a "plan" for the tree, you are not actually limited to you local area. If you wish to develop this project over the long term, I think that with 50-100 good photos of _everything_ about that tree, close and distant and in different seasons, and then continuing on to scour  online resources in search of quality knowledge, experience and such, add in a certain persistence in contacting people and begging for their help, you can probably reach half dozen or  more truly knowledgeable people who can help you evaluate that tree. You don't have limit yourself to tradesman looking for work, but can pursue academics, government employees, national treasure people, the lot. I'm assuming here that a large part of what you would like is in depth knowledge and experience backing thoughtful recommendations. The "deliverables" (goal?) would be a quantity of opinion from vetted people which, taken together, would give you a fairly clear analysis of the tree and one in which you had some degree of confidence.

It won't happen fast; it'll be work. Probably on/off for quite a while. I would bet you would need to take some "vacations" from the project. But. That is what this internet is made for.

Another "deliverable" you could aim for, which sufficient and good enough pictures from all angles might allow, would be some specific opinions on _exactly_ what and where to prune. Then,  IF, there seems some need, you could return to the local "market" and instead of looking for artists and nurturers wielding chain saws, look for skilled labor that was willing to do EXACTLY what you told them to. That is a different kind of relationship vs. the "expert" who comes in and calls the shots and you might have to look in different, creative, places. In such a situation, very young, ignorant, polite and willing and respectful wins out over knowledge any day of the week. Because youngsters are _much_ more willing to do what they're told and make it a learning experience. So are (some) brand newly minted, wet behind the ears and hungry young business persons. Again, it's a challenging search.


Best luck.
Rufus
 
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I would tend to agree with the folk who say it doesn't look like it needs pruning.  Why do you think it would "benefit"?  It does look like an oak, and possibly sessile rather than pedunculate, so presumably you're not looking for an improvement in fruit yield.  Seems a bit late to try and encourage a better habit for eventual timber production.  If it's been badly pruned in the past, I can see you might want to repair the damage by taking branches right out that had been cut back, but that's about all.  

I agree with you about UK tree surgeons, they cater for people who want their trees made smaller.  The customer is always right, and it creates more business in a few years when it needs doing all over again.
 
Mj Lacey
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Mark Reed wrote:I agree with those that commented on what a beautiful tree it is. I can't see a single reason, from the trees point of view, that it needs any trimming at all. It's a glorious mature tree. I bet it's been there a 100 years at least. I wouldn't do a thing to it except protect it's root zone, no digging, no equipment at all, nothing but  a lawn chair or just a blanket where I could recline and listen to it's stories.  You say your in the UK? That tree probably remembers the sound of Hitler's Luftwaffe, the last thing I'd expose it to is the roar of a chain saw.

Disclaimer:
I am the proverbial tree freak. When I had the forester out to check my woods so I could put my land in "forest reserve" and not have to pay taxes I didn't know what "forest reserve" meant. Turns out it means chop then down for highest profit. He encouraged me to go ahead and harvest a stand of hard maples, some as big as your tree, said I should do that before a storm or something reduces their value.

I politely told hem he had overstayed his welcome and as far as the trees were concerned, they could die of old age and rot where they fall.



Thanks and I 100% agree. If I can leave it be, I'd be glad to. However, its a lack of expertise locally that is the concern. What I suppose I am really trying to do is to ensure that it is indeed healthy and will remain so for the next 20 years at current growth rate / trajectory.

There is dead wood spotted about the tree, a number of spots where laterals have been hacked off way away from the collar in the past (with sprouts) and alot of far reaching, but very skinny (contextually speaking) branches. There is also concern for all those branches in the middle. Many are roughly the same size and not far from 50% of the main leader. This may well all be absolutely fine and positive even, but I cannot say that as a layman. Its touching the roof in one spot and likely to be doing the same in another in the next 5-10 years. I would HATE to be forced to take action against the tree with root issues or hastily in a windy season, so I guess I'm just trying to be the best steward of this I can be for now.

But I absolutely am trying to do the best by the tree.
 
Mj Lacey
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Skandi Rogers wrote:It looks like an English oak which although it's hard to estimate the girth would put it around the 150 year old mark. it also looks very healthy if a bit unsympathetically pruned, I assume because it shades other things. Lifting or thinning the canopy will not benefit the tree, though it may benefit you and anything you wish to put under it.



It is, correct. Some of the pruning may have been shade related (I've no idea unfortunately, we've not been here long) - the prior owner here was I understand, quite slap dash to this sort of thing and as mentioned elsewhere the only light work I have done has been trying to deal with spots where the tree was clearly in distress.
 
Mj Lacey
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Hester Winterbourne wrote:I would tend to agree with the folk who say it doesn't look like it needs pruning.  Why do you think it would "benefit"?  It does look like an oak, and possibly sessile rather than pedunculate, so presumably you're not looking for an improvement in fruit yield.  Seems a bit late to try and encourage a better habit for eventual timber production.  If it's been badly pruned in the past, I can see you might want to repair the damage by taking branches right out that had been cut back, but that's about all.  

I agree with you about UK tree surgeons, they cater for people who want their trees made smaller.  The customer is always right, and it creates more business in a few years when it needs doing all over again.



Much is to do with lateral branches causing embedded stress in the tree. There are a number of branches reaching up into the canopy that are all roughly the same size. Some of those have very long, thin branches reaching away from the tree. I would absolutely hate for something to break in high wind (we are quite near the coast), causing some sort of bigger issue for the tree and suddenly I be faced with taking it out entirely.

There is alot of bad pruning here, anything you can see whereby I have been in recently (three spots in the front) with a pole saw, has been trimming back a branch to the collar. The shortest was just cut off at around 20ft from it and was sprouting substantially. It was also rotting through the middle and no doubt would have been fatal at some point if left alone.

Its right by the house. I want to make sure its in the best possible shape for itself, but also insure best I can, against something that could cause a problem in the future - a root issue under the house or branch issue in the roof.

I am not sure what it is about UK arboriculture, but even those that suggest they care about trees, seem to have no interest really in (or knowledge of) the long term health implications. There is some bravado associated with the industry as far as I can tell. Something about power tools and climbing no doubt.
 
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