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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington Voices

Topping Is No Way To Treat Trees, Arborist Advises

from the VALLEY VOICE, February 15, 1997, page V3: CLARIFICATION William and Lucielle Marchand are in the process of removing storm-damaged trees from their yard. They are not pruning their trees by topping them. A story in Thursday’s Valley Voice implied otherwise.

Terry Cramer just wanted the remnants of November’s ice storm to go away. Limbs, twigs, leaves littered the yard of his Opportunity home, where two tree trunks stood cracked and jagged.

“A lot of branches broke off,” he said. “Leaves would’ve grown back but it would’ve looked real bad.”

Cramer opted to have his trees topped - their limbs cut flat across leaving no branches, just the bare trunk.

He paid $300 for the job.

Arborists say Valleyites are doing more damage than they realize to their trees by topping them. Jim Mosher, a certified arborist with Ever-Green Lawn and Tree Care, lives in the Valley and says residents here and on the North Side are “notorious for butchering their trees.”

Only because they don’t know any better.

“Mrs. Johnson drives down her street and looks at her neighbors’ topped trees and thinks that’s how her trees should be pruned,” said Mosher.

But it’s not.

Topped trees spur growth but not the kind homeowners typically want, he said. Thin, weak shoots grow around the sides of the flat cut and then edge upward.

“Eventually, the growth gets bushy up there and people top their tree again,” he said. Which, in the long run, keeps tree trimmers in business and costs the homeowners time and time again to maintain the tree.

Elms, one of the most populous trees in the Valley, typically are topped, said Mosher. People cut one-third of the top of the tree and in one year’s time, four to five feet of new growth appears. “They (homeowners) just end up cutting it constantly,” he said.

The proper way to prune involves thinning out the crown of the tree, where the foliage and branches are, he said. “It’s more meticulous and takes more time,”

Many people are having trees removed - something horticulurist Jim Flott said isn’t necessary.

“They’re trying to correct the problem but are doing more damage in some of the situations,” said Flott.

Flott, who works for the city of Spokane’s Parks and Recreation Department, said he’s been urging residents to show restraint in their attempts to clean up after the ice storm and to have an arborist or someone with an urban forestry background evaluate what needs to be done to the trees.

“We don’t want Ice Storm ‘96 turning into Saw Storm ‘97,” he said, coining a co-worker’s newest phrase. “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen in this area.”

Mosher agrees. He estimates Ever-Green crews have removed about 100 trees since the storm.

Valley resident Lucille Marchand and her husband, William, had four trees topped in the days after the storm. Marchand has since decided to have the 50-year-old Douglas fir and poplar trees cut down and removed.

“It feels naked without them,” she said as she stared into her back yard with a view of the transit center off University Avenue. “All our family picnics were under those trees. The birds and pheasants just loved it. We have lots more noise and more light from the bus parking lot coming through now. I want to hurry and get some deciduous trees up in their place.”

Cramer, who topped some of his other trees in the past, said he won’t have the trunks removed but he doesn’t like the way it looks when the trees begin to grow.

Said Cramer, “I just wish they didn’t grow back at all.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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