Can I Pollard a Fruit Tree?

Apple Tree Can I Pollard a Fruit Tree?

Can I pollard prune fruit trees to keep them smaller and more maintainable for my patio?

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Pollard Trees: When To Schedule Pruning

Pollard Pollard Trees: When To Schedule Pruning

Pollarding has been in practice for centuries, and it is an effective way to prune trees into a limited and defined shape and growth pattern every year.

Pollarding is the complete pruning of all growth back to the main branch, and the removal of the entire canopy of a tree at one time.  Knowing the correct timeframe to complete the maintenance is necessary to protect the tree from vulnerability to pests, disease, and even sunburn!

When to Pollard:

Pollarding should be completed in the fall months, when the tree is shutting down for the winter and moving into dormancy.  Fall pruning does several things, it eliminates the fall photosynthesis process effectively shutting the tree down for the season, and prepares the tree for quick shoot growth in the spring.  The cooler weather, and shorter days of fall also protect the newly exposed trunk and branches from sunscald, which would cause several kinds of damage in the long term, and a shedding of its bark in the short term.  The fall weather is also when insects are dying off, migrating, or beginning to hibernate, so the exposed branches and fresh wounds on the tree don’t open the tree up to damage from disease and pests that the same wounds would cause in the spring and summer.

Why to Pollard Your Tree:

Trees must be Pollarded forever if they have been pruned in that fashion even once before.  A pollarded tree no longer has a growth pattern to support the weight of all of its branches for the long term.  Shoot growth, and water spouts that spring out from the tree’s surgical cuts in the spring of the year are thin and rapidly growing, but vastly different from branching growth, and they will grow to choke the tree eventually, or simply begin braking off en mass if they are left un-treated.

Pollarding is an old European method of pruning that has a long history, and while it can be a strain on the tree, it does have its uses, and can be beneficial for the tree over it’s natural life span.  Pollarding is a costly expense, and should be carried out by a certified Tree Surgeon or Arborist each year, so it is not a program to begin unless you are confindent of your ability to provide the right maintenance for the tree over the length of time that you live in your house.

How Do I Know If A Tree Has Been Pollarded?

If you’ve purchased a new house but are unsure if you now own a Pollarded tree, check out my checklist list on how to determine if your tree has been Pollarded or not!

Photo Courtesy of: wfbakker2

How To: Determine A “Pollard” Tree

img 0339 225x300 How To: Determine A “Pollard” TreeIf you are a new homeowner, or simply home shopping, you will want to determine if the trees around the property have been Pollard pruned, and factor the cost of yearly Arborist visits into your budget, or the asking price on a house.  A pollard tree requires large-scale yearly pruning to maintain the overall health of the tree, or the tree will suffer from structural issues, and pose a threat to nearby cars, and property, with regularly falling limbs and debris.

How To Tell If A Tree Has Been Pollard Pruned:

Throughout the fall and winter, a pollard pruned tree will be obvious, with the majority of it’s growth cut away, and no foliage visable.  Through the growing season, these trees may be more readily identified by abnormally thick growth in the crown of the tree, and a disproportionately thick truck of the tree when compared to the height of the tree.  In the height of summer, a pollard tree’s foliage often resembles a mushroom shape, wimg 03401 225x300 How To: Determine A “Pollard” Treeith an almost perfectly shaped dome of leaves rising over the trunk of the tree.  One of the trademarks of the rapid and thick growth following a pollard pruning is that the foliage in the crown of the tree is so thick that you cannot see daylight through the branches. Pollarding cuts off the mature and natural branching of the tree, and capitalizes on the rapid growth of what are called water sprouts. Out of each branch cut will grow wads of small water sprouts, that create a very full illusion of foliage, but a very weak structure. When looking into a fully leafed-out tree to check for pollarding, let your eye follow the main branches up the tree from underneath, and notice if the branches abruptly dead-end into clumps of long finger-like shoots that grow straight up toward the sky.  If you find this pattern repeated through the tree, then you have a pollarded tree.

To the left are two pictures.  The top picture is of a pollarded tree, and it’s mushroom cap growth, and bottom picture is of a tree pruned for structural soundness, but allowed to grow naturally. Asimg 0341 225x300 How To: Determine A “Pollard” Tree illustrated by these two pictures, average foliage growth on a tree that has not been pollarded allows sunlight through, and has been allowed to develop mature branches, that open the tree up, with yearly foliage growth more consistently toward the perimeter of the crown. Pollarding allows a tree to keep water sprouts, and trains a tree to repeatedly develop them, a practice discouraged in common pruning methods, where branches are carefully selected to bear the load of future years of growth.

If you are house shopping, pollarded trees in the yard, or along a street, that you may become responsible for, are one thing to add to your list of items to ask the prior homeowner about.  Yearly Arborist visits to care for your trees can add up, and will be an item you may want to use in negotiating your settlement.  Unfortunatley, due to the large-scale nature of this pruning method, it is not a practical project for the weekend DIY-er, and will require the hauling away of a years worth of tree growth. For new homeowners with existing pollarded trees, contact a knowledgeable arborist in your area to work on a plan to maintain a healthy pollarded tree.  A yearly, or bi-yearly full pruning plan will be needed for the life of the tree.

“Pollarding:” An Extreme Way To Shape Your Tree’s Growing Habits

img 0336 300x225 “Pollarding:” An Extreme Way To Shape Your Tree’s Growing HabitsI was on my way over to my sister’s house, when I passed Arborists in her neighborhood gearing up to prune one of her neighbor’s street trees.  Having seen the final result of the requested “pollard pruning” in years past I came by later to photograph the fresh cuts. This type of pruning is my absolute least favorite, and can give new meaning to the term ‘stark,’ leaving the tree with nothing but the bare essentials for the fall and winter months.

“Pollarding” is the once-yearly removal of all the previous years growth all at once, and when done properly requires a skilled and artistic eye, to correctly select the branches that will be kept in the final design. Arguably, this method is designed  to lengthen the life of a tree, and keep the tree size relevant to the space within which it is planted.  For hundreds of years, this type of pruning has been utilized across the great cities of the world as a method of containing street trees, and encouraging uniformity of appearance.  Historically speaking, this method was developed in the days of wood stoves, and earlier still, of hearth fires, when trees were pollarded as a method of guaranteeing a regular wood pile supply for the winter. The trimmings from the tree, including the leaves and young shoots were often kept as winter food sources for livestock. European countries especially hold many trees that were used for these “working” methods, until the last 50-75 years, whereas now much of the pollarding is continued for visual reasons.

The downside to pollarding is that once a tree is pruned with the pollarding method, the tree must always be pruned in this same way, as the top growth out of the cuts are untrustworthy, and weak, and can cause damage to the tree, or nearby property.  Pollards are susceptible to wind and storm damage, when fully leafed out, and when left unpruned for more than one or (at maximum) two years, can actually strangle themselves with the overabundance of shoot growth and water spout growth that becomes tangled in the crown of the tree.

Over time, the appearance of the tree after pruning will alter, and large “knuckles” will form at the top of the branches, as the tree repeatedly heals from repedetive cuts in the same area, and seals and protects itself from the weather. The final result after years of pollarding will produce a rather ominous looking tree trunk shape, a fact not lost on the author of the  “Harry Potter” stories, who designed a rather aggressive character named “The Whomping Willow,” on the appearance of common Willow tree Pollards in England.

My Thoughts: I personally would never apply this technique to my own trees. To the untrained (or concerned) eye, this method looks more like scalping a tree, than encouraging growth, and in the United States, where this method is used infrequently, the appearance of the trees especially through the fall and winter months may repell homebuyers if your house is on the market.  Unfortunately where curb-appeal is king, this method often will not provide a return on the yearly investment you make with local arborists, in the care and upkeep of this high-maintenance method, and will be an item that either you, or the homeowners that follow you, will need to build into the yearly budget throughout the life of the tree.

Your Thoughts: What are your thoughts on pollarding?  Do you own a pollarded tree?  Would you ever used this method in your own yard?