“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?

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  1. [...] 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 [...]

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