Sometimes Mother Nature needs a little bit of help when it comes to pruning a tree. Whether branches are damaged by a storm or infected with insects, removing the limbs can help improve the overall health of a tree. But pruning can also manipulate a tree's shape and size, allowing gardeners to plant saplings that would otherwise grow too large for their yard. This technique, which has been used in Europe for centuries, is called pollarding.
Since pollarding is not a very common pruning technique in Canada, hiring a knowledgeable and skilled arboriculturalist is crucial if you'd like to apply the technique to a tree in your yard. Andy Lake of Great Lakes Tree Service has been helping homeowners care for and maintain the trees on their properties for over twenty years. A second-generation tree surgeon, Lake studied arboriculture in England, where tree pollarding is a very widespread practice.
What is tree pollarding?
Tree pollarding is used to control the size of mature trees and to create a uniform, ball-like canopy. It's a technique commonly used wherever tress lack the room to grow to their mature size. Or, they may have been planted where growing space is restricted by buildings, street lights, overhead wires and other obstacles. In England, Lake says that street trees are pollarded to help maintain their size and prevent roots from growing into sewers, since pruning the canopy will also slow the growth of the roots. Instead of pruning a few upper branches, which leaves the tree looking lopsided, pollarding creates a shorter tree with a uniform shape. This is done by dramatically cutting the major limbs of the tree.
The pollarding technique
According to Lake, the best time to pollard a tree is in early spring before the tree has grown its leaves. The central leader of the trunk is removed and cut level with the lateral branches within a few feet of the crown of the tree. Branches that crisscross should be pruned and lower shoots originating from the trunk should also be removed. The tree is basically left with the lateral branches being cut a foot from the top of the trunk.