Caring for overgrown trees is one of the most common and painful subjects I am asked about as a horticulturist. People tend to buy things that look good in a spot when they are young, then as it grows bigger they realize that it isn’t going to fit, it ruins their view, or they get afraid of having a big tree. When any of those things happen the instant response is to cut the tree back. Usually, care is not given to the health of the tree or how it will respond after getting cut back. So let’s get into how to solve the problem after it is too late to move the tree.
Let’s face it. Most overgrown trees are not going to be cheap to maintain or be very safe. Even if you are attached to the tree removal needs to be a serious option.
Making a tree that is already too tall shorter is possible, but it will not keep the tree short forever. Removing more than a few feet will result in problems no matter what. Even if you do it properly and only take a little off the top, it will likely only work for one year. Most companies that offer this service don’t bother with doing what is right for the tree and just start sawing limbs. This indiscriminate cutting will result in lots of weak growth prone to breakage and disease. If you do chose to reduce the height of a tree please keep in mind that you will need to have it trimmed again on at least a yearly basis. The tree will never stop trying to get back to where it was until it starts dying.
If you try to cut out more that 25% of the tree you guarantee the tree will not be happy and you will be struggling for decades to deal with the damage.
Cutting off of a building
This may seem like a no brainer, but it is harder than it seems. You still can not safely take more than 25% off of the tree. And you need to make sure the cuts are not random, or in the wrong places. You should also expect to see the tree try and compensate for the removal by putting on new growth. If the area you are trimming is in the shade you may not see much growth in the trimmed area, but it will likely grow even more in the sunny areas. If the cut area has sun it will try and recover quickly and need to be done again every year.
The most common type of adjustment for a tree is to raise limb to get the tree out of the way of pedestrians, cars, and lawn mowers. Like the other reductions, you can only take 25% of the tree out per year. The most common problem when raising limbs it to only take the parts of the branch off that are immediately in the way. While this seems fine when you do it, to often so much is taken off of a branch that it slowly kills it do to a lack of leaves. Dead branches and stumps are often left there to open the tree up for infection and just simply look ugly.
Power line clearing
I hear no end of complaints about the trees cleared from power lines. The reality is that trees and electrical lines do not mix. Trees can drain power from the lines, cause fires, or break a line. The reality is that the tree will eventually lose the battle due to economics. The only decision is if you want an ugly tree or if you should just give up and get rid of the tree all together.
The only real solution for overgrown trees is to not plant the wrong tree planted in the first place. Since it is not possible to go back in time and change that planting, we can only do the best we can to improve the situation. If you have a comment about what has worked for you, please post a comment below.