Hello, My Name Is Lois, and I Am An Over-Pruner [Or What I Learned Volunteering With Friends of the Urban Forest]

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Today’s picture of my over-pruned pepper tree; ‘a Charlie brown tree,’ my fellow FUF volunteer, Kristen, aptly noted.

About a week ago now, I played hooky from the office and attended a ‘No Frown Friday Tree Care Day’ volunteer event with Friends of the Urban Forest [or FUF.]  So many good things about that day.  For starters, the weather was glorious–sunny, cool in the shade, clear.

We met up at 11 am in the Marina.  The majority of the volunteers were from Twitter*.  We volunteers were divvied up into teams; each team led by a FUF employee or two and given a list of trees, previously planted by FUF, that were due for some attention.

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Our team–Allegra, me, Kristen.

Our FUF employee and team leader, Allegra, was full of knowledge and a willing teacher.  What a pleasure to be around someone so stoked about their job.

We approached each tree with the following objectives–

1)  Examine the roots.  Brush the soil, mulch, etc, away from the ‘flare’ so that the base of the tree isn’t getting fungus-y due to water collection.  Check for roots that might be circling and thus choking the tree.

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A gingko with circling roots.
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Same gingko with circling roots removed.

2) Check the leaves for any signs of infection/infestation.

3)  Look for the leader.  Basically, you want to trim down any vertical shoots that might be in competition with the leader so that the leader gets the good stuff and the tree attains maximum height.

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Allegra peeking inside the foliage to determine which one of these branches is the best choice for leader.

4)  Check for damage due to rubbing/crossing branches.

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Note the dark area on the trunk, likely due to rubbing against the stabilizing strap.

5)  When considering branches to keep or remove, keep in mind that San Francisco regulations require 14 ft clearance on the street and 8 ft clearance on the sidewalk.  Although most of the trees we visited were too young and short to begin taking branches off at these heights.  It was more about envisioning which branches would be only temporary and cutting them back to keep them in check for now.

So after these considerations and determinations, we pruned!!!!!  I did my first three-step cut with a handsaw–first cut, a couple inches out on the trunk on the under side so that the branch won’t peel back excess bark from the tree as it’s coming off; second cut, the main cut, outside the first cut and on the top side of the branch, to take off the bulk of the branch;  the third cut, up against the collar of the tree to remove the stub left behind.

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Our first tree pre-pruning. Ack! Can’t remember the type of tree! Anyone?
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Kristen lopping off one of the competitors for leader.
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After. So well-coiffed.

We made a pile of the removed branches and periodically checked that we had not removed more than a third of the tree’s foliage.  Trees need adequate leaves to make food, especially important after undergoing these pruning injuries.

When finished, a door hanger was left for the homeowner with tips and maintenance, and notations were made about the tree’s condition for FUF’s database.

What I learned?  I’m over-pruning!  Not really a surprise, but I’m taking it seriously now.  For some reason, it finally got through to me that each time a tree is pruned, it’s undergoing surgery and needs time to recover.  Maybe because, this time, I made the connection between pruning and my own experience recovering from a c-section.  I certainly wouldn’t want to have one of those every week or month.  So I’m going to try to restrain myself from pruning the pepper tree again for one whole year!

How will I manage my urge to prune?!  Distractions and more trees.  With that in mind, I brought home a clipping from our last tree of the day, a gingko.  I scraped off some of the bark at the base, dipped it in rooting hormone, planted it in soil and covered it with a plastic bag.  Fingers crossed that it develops roots.  It may be my opportunity to practice a little bonsai.

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Sans plastic bag–looking a bit droopy today. Grow some roots, little gingko!!!

Thanks again, FUF!!!!  What an awesome organization; I can’t wait to go out with you guys again.

*Twitter, like many of the Bay area tech companies, requires employees to complete a certain number of volunteer hours each year.  A lovely idea.  Please feel free to use my comments section below to debate whether or not this effort towards community involvement is enough to offset their (perceived?) negative impact on the Bay area (housing costs and availability, etc).  I have no opinion at the moment.

Please tell me your thoughts!

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