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The City Prunes My Trees

by germinatrix | August 22nd, 2009


what is it? an evil claw coming for my trees!what is it? an evil claw coming for my trees!

One morning not long ago I was inside, in my kitchen, having a nice cup of coffee and thinking about what the day had in store for me when suddenly, I heard a loud grinding sound. No big. My neighborhood is a lovely place, but tranquil it is not – I live at the bottom of a hill that the local Antique Car Club maniacs love to race up and down, mufflers loudly protesting. And then there are the motorcycles … don’t get me started! So, I usually take noise in my stride – but this was different. It was the unmistakable sound of a large wood chipper. I looked out the window and saw a frightening site – the city tree men had finally come to prune the branches of the sycamores on my hellstrip.

destruction incarnate destruction incarnate

I grabbed my camera and ran outside. I’d been waiting for this for over seven years. These sycamores are beautiful trees, but they are old and stressed and their branches fall at the slightest provocation. Often the branches that fall are huge, and we’ve been lucky that there have been no injuries (I live a block away from the local highschool, and my neighborhood is full of cool little kids riding bikes and skateboarding). I’ve called the city, written the city, offered to have it done if the city would reimburse me (or at the very least not fine me) – all to no avail. So I thought the powers that be had finally listened to one of their community stakeholders and had come to prune the exfoliating sycamores. WRONG!

he is trying to ignore me - ha! foolish man...he is trying to ignore me – ha! foolish man…

I immediately noticed that the cutter was hacking and chopping without rhyme or reason. He had no idea what he was doing. I waved at him, both arms up in the air, in the international gesture for “STOP RIGHT NOW”. I know he saw me, but he went right on with his massacre. There was another gentleman whose job it was to pick up the branches and shove them into the chipper – I went up to him and politely asked him if I could talk to the man doing the cutting. He said he couldn’t speak English. So I replied, in Spanish, that I’d still like to speak to him. The chipper man said no. The rest of our conversation went something like this :

(Translated from Spanish to English)

me: … but this man is cutting the trees all wrong! These branches are going to fall off and he has to cut them to the … the … how do you say ? (I gesture with my arm, trying to make it look trunk-like) The big part, the thick part … all the other parts come off of the big part (my proficiency in Spanish is dissolving as I continue)…

he: the trunk?

me: YES! Yes – he has to cut the … the branch all the way to the trunk. The branches fall and someone is going to get hurt!

he: We are only supposed to cut the parts that stick out into the street.

me: But he isn’t even doing that! Look at all the dead stuff he left – when you cut a tree, you have to take off the dead parts 

he: (looking off) mmmhmm…

me: Did anybody tell him how to cut trees? Does he know how to do this?

he: (walking away) sorry, lady …

me: (realizing I have now crossed the threshold from concerned citizen to crazy lady, I decided to go with it) You don’t know what you’re doing! I KNEW it! At least have him cut the biggest branch … (under my breath)… assholes.

he moves on, leaving a mess behindhe moves on, leaving a mess behind

Now, it’s not that I have no sympathy for these men – I was just caught up in the moment and vented my frustration a little improperly. What gets me is that there is obviously no training for these men whose only job is to drive around the huge city of Los Angeles, with a cherry picker and a wood chipper in tow, and trim the trees on city property. Which means inclludes our hellstrips. And these trees on our hellstrips impact our gardens and our sidewalks and our neighborhoods in general! Knowledgeable and sensitive tree pruning and maintenance is not alot to ask! A neighborhood is so enhanced by beautiful trees, and can be ruined by a block wide tree massacre. Two years ago, the lovely street around the corner from mine, lined with gorgeous liquidambars, was ravaged by thoughtless city tree men. They hacked the beautiful branches senselessly in half, all the way up the trees, and then topped them all – meaning that it one fell swoop they turned beautiful, tall, slender trees that are supposed to grow up to a single leader branch … into lollipops. 

they left my trees half done - a small blessingthey left my trees half done – a small blessing

I don’t think training these men properly is too much to ask. A workshop, a book – anything! Even though it seems complicated, simple tree pruning isn’t hard – remove dead wood and crossed branches, thin heavy growth so sun can shine into the center, and respect the natural shape of the tree. They don’t have to make art – they just have to do a simple job correctly. They’ve never been shown how. 

I’ll bet I’m not the only crazy lady coming out of her house, apoplectic over the tree cutters. I might as well have been wearing a headfull of foam curlers, a quilted robe, and fuzzy slippers. And yes, I know that cities don’t have money anymore and they are overwhelmed – but even when city coffers were full the trees were still badly maintained! It just isn’t a priority.

Our TREES, the oxygen givers, the oldest living things on the planet, should be shown a little more respect.

a close up of a freshly trimmed branch. what do you think?close up of a freshly trimmed branch. what do you think?

13 Responses to “The City Prunes My Trees”

  1. wow, – i’d be a crazy lady too, – would love to say it wouldn’t happen in England, but I know it would, and that i’d have the same response as you (except I can’t speak polish)

  2. I feel your pain – really, I do.

    I can hardly take a walk without staring up at the atrocities that our city has created. I’ve even written a blog about it myself (it’s particularly bad in the Sierras, where they just cut the heads off of the pine trees). Maybe you can send your city a copy of this blog w/the photos and your helpful suggestions on how to properly trim a tree – I’m sure they’d listen! (can you hear my sarcasm….)


  3. I once read a newspaper’s review of a Barry Manilow concert. The reviewer went on about the treacly lyrics, the overly-dramatic key changes, the corny jokes… and eventually concluded, “I’ve never cared for Barry Manilow.” That writer had no business reviewing a Barry Manilow concert; if you’re reading a review of a Manilow concert, you want to know how good a Manilow concert it was… not whether it satisfied the reviewer’s disinterest in the material.

    Your tree-hackers have no business “pruning” anything. And I agree with your observation: Budget is no excuse for poor performance. If you can get a crew to the trees, you can have them study for an hour before they handle saws. If they don’t want to care for the trees, they shouldn’t be bothering the trees at all.

  4. Urban Eden says:

    Oh lady, I would have been just as crazy as you, with upset tummy to boot. Did you scream “BUT YOU’RE PRUINING THEM??” :>

  5. I totally understand your frustration. Since we live on a private road we have to do and pay for everything-but I guess the upside is that we don’t have to deal with this senselessness.

  6. Merde! Germi,
    A topic that I don’t like to get started on because I see red.
    Pruning is an art, but the basics can be taught in ways that would keep this sort of destruction from taking place. But then we would have to be living in a civilized society, and I’m not certain that we are. Save a buck, destroy a tree. Or don’t save a buck, and wreak havoc anyway.

  7. Oh Germi, don’t even get me STARTED on this topic! My last house had 7 huge live oaks along the back property line. Which also happened to be near where the power lines were. Every year the power company would send out crews to do terrible things to them (basically shear a big notch out of their upper canopy) with no sense of respect for the tree. I’ve also seen Sycamores, Redwods and Liquidambars topped at 20′! There’s probably a lecture about right plant/right place in here somewhere when it comes to power lines, but my oaks had been there longer than the phone poles had. Poor things (And LOL about the image of you in foam curlers and fuzzy slippers…I’ve scared a few Asplundh workers myself!)

  8. OMG…I don’t understand why this is acceptable to the city. Or anyone. Recently a follow Portlander wrote of the destruction/trimming of the trees at our neighborhood grocery/home store. I thought it couldn’t possibly be as bad as she wrote. Until I saw it in person. An untrained 6 year old with a chain saw couldn’t have done a worse job. I don’t know how you kept from climbing in that rig and taking over!

  9. Hi Claire! My dream of England is that it is a country where everyone has horticultural savvy and an inherent respect for all things planted – I don’t want to know that bad tree pruning (PRUINING!!!) exists! But I have to accept that in reality, a woman like me is running out into the street, yelling in broken, strangled Polish (I am assuming the backbone of the hort workforce must be Polish there, as it is Hispanic here). I pray she is not you! I want your trees to be un-massacred and your neighbors to never see you in the enraged, unfashionable state mine did!

    Oh, Sweet Rebecca, I KNOW you feel this as keenly as I do! Isn’t it just the worst? Sometimes I see the grews doing their dirty deeds areound town and it is all I can do not to pull over and go mad on them! About two months ago, I saw a crew topping a the hell out of a block full of street trees Jacarandas that were STILL IN BLOOM! What a travesty! This thoughtlessness knows no bounds. I agree with you – a strongly worded letter at the least, but a full on petition or sit in might be in order!

    Hey there Cityslipper! YES! The Barry Manilow analogy is perfect – and props to you for working Barry Manilow into a comment about pruning street trees (this is one of the reasons I am a follower of yours!)
    I know that there are a number of caring hort professionals that would be more than happy to donate their time to give a workshop to city tree cutters – like you said, even an hour would be helpful! I wonder if city bureaucracy would allow for that… hmmm…

    Urban Eden! I can believe I forgot the wonderful PRUINING!!!! It MUST become a part of the lexicon, because it is totally in evidence all over the place. PRUINING must be dealt with! Thanks for reminding me of the term that was coined a few months back!

    Hey there Nicole – you know, LA County has a Dept of Urban Forestry that is totally dysfunctional. The ideals were great, but there is no implementation – they are supposed to do all urban tree maintenance to ensure that trees are properly cared for – and still, this is what we get. Anyone who prunes a street tree, especially an old one, risks a big fine. I’d gladly pay for these sycamore to be properly cared for! I wish I could make my side street private, like yours !

    Tendril, bummer is the word. In a way, I am very happy that the guy got nervous and left the tree with the most half-assed cutting job ever – I would have DIED if he would have gone crazy like they usually do an TOPPED them. Better that the tree uses it’s own sense and drops branches when it has to rather than these hackers PRUIN them! XO!

    Dearest Leafer! NOOOOOO! How could they do that LIVE OAKS??? Of all trees to not know how to deal with – oaks have to be cut with finesse! And I’m sorry – TOPPING a REDWOOD??? WTF?? You are right – correct plant choice is crucial, but like you pointed out, many of these old trees were there before the power lines! AAAARRRRGGGG! I feel a protest march coming on…

    I swear, Loree – reading all of the comments is making me so mad that the next time I see a tree cutting rig when I’m driving around, I might have to pull over and seize control. I might end up being the next Julia Butterfly (was that the tree-sitters name?), chained to a cherry picker and on a hunger strike! Its a worthy cause! XOXO!

  10. I think all cities should have Tree Czars whose job it is to stop these kinds of massacres from happening. Trees are such a valuable resource in a city and they need to have expert care. And, as you say, it wouldn’t take a huge amount of time to give these cutting crews a course on basics, would it???

    This Crazy Maintenance approach is the equivalent of filling potholes in a city with play-dough. Sure, you can’t see the hole any more, for now, but it in no way solves the problem, rather it makes it worse.

  11. you can do what I did several years ago.
    pay for a permit with the city and hire an independent arborist to come and fix the city’s hack job.
    The cost, about $ 1200.00 – out of pocket with no reimbursement.

  12. What a story! I am simultaneously crying at the state of your neighborhood trees, while laughing and the thought of you chewing out the maintenance crew in as many languages as the situation called for. Did you mention you were a TV star? They might have listened better.

  13. Hi Sarah! I nominate myself for Los Angeles Tree Czar! (I hope I get a fabulous crown to wear while I’m out enforcing good tree pruning practices!)

    Hey Michele D! You are HARDCORE – I couldn’t pay … I’d rather stand underneath one of the sycamores and wait for the inevitable huge branch to fall on me – and then I’ll sue the pants off the city and pay for all the fancy tree work my little garden desires!

    Susan my dear! Somehow, I doubt that my status as a some-time garden sidekick to a day-time talk show host would have impressed these guys. I need to carry a video of my ‘Worm Compost’ segment just for the occasions my landscape design credibility just doesn’t go deep enough. I think my being able to cuss them out in Spanish did impress them a little, though… I have to say – that has come in handy more times than I can count! XO!

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