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home : opinion : opinion July 18, 2019

5/7/2019 12:11:00 AM
It's Spring; Here Come The Tree Butchers
Over-trimming a tree, such as this river birch, can hasten its demise.
Over-trimming a tree, such as this
river birch, can hasten its demise.

Tammy Wilson
Guest Columnist

It’s spring and the tree butchers are out. You know the crews that go door-to-door in search of trees to scalp.

Recently I saw their handiwork south of Newton: beautifully shaped hardwoods reduced to the shape of surgical gloves. Glorious trees with full canopies were ridiculously pruned into GI haircuts, or shaved in half or worse yet, cut to become a totem pole with arms. This sort of thing always sends me into my stump speech.

Not only do the trees look deformed, but the severe trimming may cause the tree to die--and die more quickly--because it was topped. Think of a human body with all limbs and the head removed. The prognosis is never good.

I don’t blame the tree surgeons entirely. Homeowners want to prevent disasters to their roofs. Large trees with overhanging limbs are unsettling though limbs can be carefully and artfully trimmed to avoid damaging anything.

A friend recently told me about a tree disaster at her church in Taylorsville. A strong wind came up and a large old tree toppled onto the roof, leaving a hole the size of an automobile. It was the better part of a year before parishioners could use the building. Then tree paranoia took hold. Several lovely old trees succumbed to the tree surgeon’s blade and the street is now a parade of large stumps. Somehow, those folks think stumps—the six and ten-foot kind, are preferable to just cutting the trees down and being done with it. Slow death is never attractive. The tree, unable to support itself with life-breathing leaves, may branch out a few green whiskers on its pitiful stumps. In a few years, the weakened tree will attract insects or become diseased. The root system will collapse. The tree is doomed.

Homeowners tend to freak out when a tree falls in the neighborhood. I get that, too. We live on a wooded lot and we’ve made a rule not to go out walking when strong winds pick up. Limbs fall and smash what’s under them.

Diseased and damaged trees need to be watched and, perhaps, removed. But why do the job in sections? And why take down a perfectly healthy tree just because an itinerant tree surgeon knocks on the door? It seems wise to check credentials and make sure the tree “experts” are insured and know what they’re doing. Tree cutting is dangerous business and should be done only after careful deliberation.

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Dr. Karen McDougal, our local “tree lady,” taught botany many years at Lenoir-Rhyne University. One of her pet peeves is the “broccoli tree”—a butchered tree fit for a zombie apocalypse. You’ve seen those unsightly trunks with a few stubby limbs, or even worse, a trunk with a flat-top “haircut.” Think overly trimmed crepe myrtles.

Many of us have encountered utility tree crews. I remember them coming through our old neighborhood, destroying every sapling along the front of our wooded lot. These trees weren’t near the power lines, but they were headed in that direction. We wound up with an unsightly bare spot in front of our house and a huge mess to clean up.

I understand issues with power lines. Homeowners often don’t have a clue how large that cute maple will grow.

But for the life of me, I don’t understand why people pay big money to have a perfectly good tree butchered into an unsightly trunk with little more than fringe for branches and leaves.

Just cut the thing down and be done with it.

OK, I’m off my stump now.

Tammy Wilson is a writer who lives near Newton. Contact her at

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