Leave street trees alone

Cities hire experts to take care of them.

Peter Warmerdam

Peter Warmerdam

Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows want residents to relax a bit, they’ve got it covered when it comes to trimming or pruning street trees along property lines.

It’s not that both cities don’t appreciate the attention and concern people have over their streets and neighbourhoods.

But when it comes to keeping trees healthy, and looking good, pruning is best left to the professionals.

“We have 8,800 trees out there that we maintain. They’re on a five-year pruning cycle,” said Geoff Mallory, manager of parks and open spaces for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows parks and leisure services.

“We don’t expect the average homeowner to know how to prune, so that’s why we have an abourist go out and do it for us.”

Mallory said improper pruning of trees can lead to disease, dangerous weakening of branches, even death.

In a recent ad, the parks department said that trees beside roads are municipal trees and people are asked not to prune them or bury trunks under soil or bark mulch.

One of the most common mistakes in pruning a tree is topping it – just lopping off the top to control its height or cutting back the main branches to form a skeleton for future growth.

That can damage a tree permanently, lead to decay, disease or weak branches. If a tree needs regular trimming to control its size, it’s probably in the wrong location, says the Urban Tree Foundation.

Mallory said there are three main reasons for pruning a tree: removing dead branches, removal of damaged or weak branches, or to remove diseased parts of the tree.

Some of the most common street trees used in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows include the maple, oak, cherry and ash trees. In the refurbished parts of downtown Maple Ridge, narrower maple trees are used so they don’t interfere with pedestrian use of sidewalks.

If property owners decide to prune a tree on their own property, not the city-owned stretch of land on the boulevard, the Urban Tree Foundation has a good website that can offer pruning tips.

Trees should be pruned for air circulation so that masses of branches don’t constrict too much air. And never remove more than a third of a tree’s branches, because to compensate, the tree will send out suckers.

When cutting a branch, leave the stem collar of the branch on the tree to minimize harm. Cutting a branch flush to the tree trunk used to be the practice, but that’s no longer followed.

Maple Ridge resident Allen Lees said municipal crews are doing a good job of pruning trees, even though a five-year cycle is a lengthy one. The only problem is when trees have to be removed for sighting or road safety purposes.

Residents are given the option of removing those trees first. Public works crews can chop then down.

Lees has been campaigning for three years for Maple Ridge to update its tree bylaw. Under its current tree protection bylaw, homeowners can chop down three trees of any size without a permit.

Outside the urban area, trees can be mowed down, subject to watercourse or slope protection, at the owner’s discretion.