Pollarding in March?

That’s me, where I like to be, happy in a tree.

Yeah, okay, it’s a little late to be pollarding. Normally we pollard in the winter, after the trees lose their leaves. That way you don’t have to look at the funny, leafless shoots all winter long.

A little comparison. . .

Trees Company pruned the tree on the left, not the one on the right. The people who own the tree on the right decided to hire the lowest bidder instead of Trees Company which charged more for its quality workmanship.. Both trees were the same species, same age, same size and pruned within a few weeks of each other. Both are Lophostemon confertus located on 18th street in the Castro.

You be the judge. . .

Ficus, Podocarpus

Today Fetter and I worked on a couple of Ficus microcarpa and a Podocarpus gracilior.

Let’s start with the Ficus trees. The goal was to do light, natural flow pruning. We want these trees to grow big, but look natural. As you can see it doesn’t look like we did much at all. I like it when you look at one of my trees and you wouldn’t know that it had just been pruned.

These are fairly young Ficus street trees. It’s my guess that they have been in the ground for no more than 5 years.

You don’t see many young Ficus trees here in SF. Back in the 80’s Ficus were all the rage because they adapt to our harsh urban conditions. 10 years later San Franciscans found out that they rip up sidewalks. So they don’t plant them much any more, except in Pacific Heights. Your guess is as good as mine. . .

Back in 1990-91 there was a freak cold spell here that wiped out thousands of Ficus trees. There are still many in the Mission, especially along 24th Street where the weather is about 10 degrees warmer than the rest of the city.

The fruit and reproduction systems of species in the genus Ficus are unique. Each species of Ficus has an associated species of agaonid wasp. Ficus species can only be pollinated by their
associated agaonid wasps and in turn, the wasps can only lay eggs within their associated
Ficus fruit.

The Ficus is everywhere. It is a terrible nuisance in parts of the world where the pollinator wasp has appeared. In Hawaii, Florida, Bermuda, and South and Central America it is an invasive weed. Animals and birds spread the seeds everywhere. They often grow epiphytically, starting off as a seed dropped in the crotch of another tree. They will eventually choke out the native host tree.

The images below are the before and after pictures of the Podocarpus gracilior.

Laurel, Eugenia

The priority was to prune the tall Eugenias away from the neighbor’s windows and make them shorter. The Laurel, meanwhile, had some dead branches and was messy. It needed some layering and some shape.

Laurel? Prunus laurocerasus.
What’s in a name?
Prunus, means plum. It’s the same genus as the plum, apricot, cherry, and almond.
Lauro means “laurel” and cerasus means “cherry.” Which is why it is commonly called the Cherry Laurel.

Often used as a hedge. Sometimes used for MURDER.
see below:
www.thepoisongarden.co.uk/atoz/prunus_laurocerasus.htm

The Cherry Laurel, unlike its tasty fruiting cousins, is poisonous, though it smells like almonds. It used to be used to flavor milk. After too many accidents with children this practice ended.

Big Ol’ Eugenia Hedge

Me an Fetter were trimming this big puppy for about 5 hours. We are starting a yearly maintenance schedule in order to try to restore this hedge after many years of topping. It was full of stubs and suckers. It was also much wider on the top than at thr bottom and had very little inner green.

Inner green is the green leaves that grow toward center of the tree. It is important for tree health. The sugars produced by these leaves have less distance to travel to feed the trunk and roots.

I often see trees that have been striped out of their inner green. It is a common practice among some tree trimmers. Stripping away the inner green also creates disproportionate weight on the branches. They become heavy on the ends and more prone to break. We call this “lion-tailing.”

Eugenia is yet another Australian tree in Myrtaceae family (Eucalyptus, Corymbia, Lophostemon). There are three botanical names: Eugenia paniculata, Syzygium paniculatum, and Eugenia myrtifolia. I’m still trying to figure out why. If you have any idea, please comment.

Eugenia can get very tall, very quickly, up to 50 feet. With the exception of the one at the Eagle Tavern, all of the Eugenias I’ve s
een in San Francisco are infested with the psyllid Trioza eugeniae (a small winged insect about the size of an aphid). The psyllid causes the leaves to look blistery and distorted. They can look really sickly

In 1991 the Center for Biological Control at the University of California at Berkeley went in search of a natural enemy of the Eugenia psyllid. They discovered a parasitic wasp in the genus Tamarixia in Australia where Syzygium paniculatum naturally occurs. It was initially released in the Eugenia hedges at Disneyland in July 1992. While a success story in southern California, the little wasp can’t survive San Francisco’s cooler climate. We have to rely on pesticides.

People sometimes make jelly out of the pink berries. I’ve never tried it.

Lophostemon confertus (formerly Tristania conferta)

The client wanted a major reduction. This poor tree had already been abused by a hack tree trimmer. They left many large stubs which had sprouted vertically making the tree extremely dense and unnatural looking. Normally one shouldn’t remove more than one third of the canopy when trimming a tree. This tree is an exception. Our goal was to reduce the size and restore a more manageable structure. In a few years, after two more prunings, this tree will look perfect. It can take several years to restore a topped tree.


Lophostemon confertus is another Australian import often used as a street tree in San Francisco. It is commonly called the Brisbane Box, also Brush Box, Queensland Box, and Vinegar Tree. I call it a Brisbane Box. It’s in the same family as the Eucalyptus, Myrtaceae, but has a denser foliage and gives more shade.

This tree isn’t very showy, but the shape can be interesting if pruned naturally. They are quite disease resistant, but don’t like constant wind.

Here is a picture of its persistent fruit capsules. Persistent means that it doesn’t fall off the tree.

These trees grow very tall and fast. They can grow to be 60 t0 90 feet. Unfortunately they often get planted under power lines and then get butchered, topped.

A very pretty flower, but not very noticeable.

Big Corymbia ficifolia

Today we pruned a 50 foot tall Corymbia ficifolia. This tree, native to the far southern coast of Western Australia is in the Myrtaceae family as are Eucalyptus. Up until 1995 this tree was called a Eucalyptus ficifolia. It was one among 80 Eucalpytus to transfer to the new genus Corymbia.

Corymbia…from Latin, corymbium, a “corymb” referring to floral clusters where all flowers branch from the stem at different levels but ultimately terminate at about the same level.
ficifolia…with leaves resembling those of the genus Ficus.

Corymbia ficifolia is a very common street tree in San Francisco. They grow very well here in sandy soil where the summers are dry. Birds and bees love them. People, one the other hand often complain about the mess from the many red flowers. I’ve seen a lot of these trees butchered. They bounce right back, however. The suckers that grow after topping often break due to their weak attachments and they heavy fruit. These heavy nuts are numerous and quite a task for the clean up crew.

This particular monster is in the back yard of a very fancy San Francisco Marina Mansion. It took six of us nearly as long to set up protection, clean up the mess, and break down the protection as it did to trim the tree. We filled two trucks full of brush.

It think this is a great example of natural flow pruning. To the untrained eye one would not know the tree had been trimmed at all. Yet it has a great shape, light shines through the tree, and there is still good screening from the apartments in the background.

Hollywood Juniper


So the owner of this beautiful, old Juniperus chinensis (Hollywood Juniper, right) wanted it removed. My goal was to make it smaller and more sculptural so that the owner would want to keep it. It was a challenge. I would have liked to kept the height and taken a lot less out of it.

But I felt like if I had left it thick the owner would eventually have it completely removed. I also did a quickie on the Corymbia ficifolia on the left. That poor tree had been topped badly. Both of the clients are much happier. For now, the trees have been saved.

I wish I had a “before” picture


Here we are on Laguna Honda, in SF.

I pruned this tree several months ago. Unfortunately I never took a before picture. I guess I didn’t think that it was going to turn out so fabulous.

Previously it was a massive blob that totally blocked the pathway, the canopy went right to the ground.

The clients are ecstatic. They’ve hired me to be the grounds keeper for the entire property. My next undertaking is to remove the front lawn and replace it with ground cover. More to be revealed. . .

Buried Root Crown


See this tree over here on the left. It’s a baby Incense Cedar that was planted on a gorgeous estate in San Rafael. But there’s a big problem with this picture. The tree has been planted too low. I can tell just by looking at the way the trunk goes straight into the ground. There should be a flair at the bottom of the trunk where the trunk becomes the roots.

This part of the tree is called the root flair, or the root crown. It should never be buried by soil or even mulch. Otherwise the tree can have all sorts of problems. The bottom of the tree trunk can actually rot.

Here on the right I have started to dig down and expose the root crown. It is buried about 8 inches under mulch and soil. Left unchanged, this tree will become weakened and very susceptible to pests and disease.
Here on the left I have exposed two adventitious roots. Sometimes when a tree is planted too low it get’s confused and sends out roots from the trunk. These adventitious roots are rather large. One should not confuse an adventitious root with the root flair.
In the photo on the left you can see the root flair, well below these two adventitious roots. Sometimes it is okay to remove the adventitious roots. In this case, since they are so large, I’ve decided to leave them.
In San Francisco the number one reason for tree pest and disease problems is a buried root crown. I see it all the time. One reason is that trees grown in pots are frequently sold with buried root crowns. Before you plant you should always excavate the trunk, locate the crown, and place the tree in the ground to that the root flair is just above grade. I’ve had to remove the top 8 inches of soil in a nursery pot just to expose the root crown.
Another reason I see trees failing because of buried root crowns is a raised garden planted around a tree. Gardeners and designers often aren’t aware of the importance of the root crown. They think it would be nice to build a raised bed around a tree. This can look very nice, but not so nice when the tree gets sick. It may take several years for a large tree to react. But by the time the tree has an obvious reaction, like dieback or fungus or discoloration, it may be too late.
Last thing ya’ll should know. Never plant low. Especially in soil that has a heavy clay content.