Pollarding a tree involves trimming the tree for the sake of controlling its mature size and shape, usually into a uniformed ball-shaped canopy.
This tree trimming technique is employed on trees planted in an area too small for them to reach full growth.
It requires some skill but it isn’t hard to get the hang it.
All the same, I’ll be using this article to teach you all you need to know about pollarding a tree.
Reasons For Pollarding A tree
Trees can be pollarded for many reasons.
One such is the other trees planted in the same area. Their over-growth could be a problem for the other smaller trees and besides removing it, pollarding is the next best option.
The tree could also be planted close to a power line, fencing, or some other form of obstacle. Therefore it has to be pollarded so the limited spaces can be managed.
How Are Trees Pollarded?
To pollard, a tree, the central leader of the tree has to be cut off, as well as the branches that are lateral to the same overall height, positioned within a few feet of the tree’s crown.
The height should be at least 6 feet above ground level to keep the new growth from being eaten by grazing animals. You would also cut off lower tree limbs and all crossing limbs.
After pollarding a tree, it will look like a bare piece of wood, but the crown will grow in soon after.
Pollarding should only be done when the tree is in its dormant state. This is between winter and the early spring seasons (basically January to March).
Young trees are the best candidates for pollarding. This is because they grow quicker and healthier than more mature trees. New trees are also a lot less prone to diseases.
Pollarding vs. Topping
Topping a tree is a practice that is condemned by forestry professionals since it can weaken or kill a tree. When trees are topped, the top area of the central trunk is cut away.
This practice is usually carried out on mature trees in a case where the tree owner underestimates its size at maturity. After topping is carried out, it will be very difficult for the tree to experience any re-growth.
Pollarding on the other hand is carried out on young trees, and re-growth is easy and fast.
Best Trees For Pollarding
Not every tree will respond well to pollard pruning. There are a few conifer trees that are suitable for this practice.
Some broadleaf trees can tolerate Pollarding. These trees have vigorous regrowth patterns. They include –
- Willow trees
- Beech trees
- Oak trees
- Hornbeam trees
- Lime trees
- Chestnut trees
Tips For Pollarding A Tree
After you pollard a tree for the first time, you have to keep up the practice. How often you trim depends heavily on your reasons for pollarding the tree.
If you are doing so to reduce the size of your tree or retain a particular landscape design, then you can pollard once in two years.
If your reasons for pollarding is to get enough long-lasting firewood, then you can pollard once in five years.
Failure to maintain pollarding on the tree will lead to a growth of very heavy branches afterward. The tree will also be overcrowded and will become susceptible to diseases, all thanks to an increase in humidity levels.
Coppicing And Pollarding
The most significant difference between pruning and pollarding lies in the specific areas of the tree where the cutting takes place.
Coppicing takes place at the ground level of the tree, while pollarding takes place around the top area of the tree.
Pollarding and coppicing are both old practices that have lasted for thousands of years. In France, there are 600-year-old coppiced plants still in production.
Such hard pruning results in voluminous, thin, vigorous growth. This was and is still used to make baskets, hurdles, and trellis fences.
Pollarded Hazel rods can be used to make very good bean poles.
Steps To Follow To Pollard A Tree
To pollard, a tree, pick out three to five branches you want to use as the framework, then cut off the rest.
Cut the branches you have selected for the framework back to your desired length and wait for new growth. After the very first trimming, you have to repeat the process every few years to retain the tree’s shape.
Canopy Reduction & Pollarding: Are They The Same?
Another arboricultural term that you may confuse with pollarding is “canopy reduction”. They are quite similar but there is a slight difference.
The practice of canopy reduction also requires a few selected top branches to be reduced, but for practical reasons. Some of these include removing some of a tree’s branches because they are threats to structures like power lines or fences.
Rejuvenating An Overgrown Pollard
Tree pollarding services cost a decent sum of money, but it would cost more if you were to revive a tree that has been previously pollarded then ignored for a good number of years.
Rejuvenating an overgrown pollard requires the removal of larger, overgrown branches from a significantly greater height
If you are faced with an overgrown pollard, your best move is to consult with a professional arborist. Don’t make any hasty decisions until a pro has come over and taken a look at the overgrown pollard.
I’d like to drop some tips which you could use to rejuvenate an overgrown pollard.
Remove Loose Branches
First of all, I advise you to cut off any spindly branches. Also, get rid of any branches you find that are not firmly attached to the tree’s trunk.
Consider Thinning Out Branches
You can do a quick assessment of your overgrown pollard and determine if some branches can be thinned out rather than cut off.
If there are branches that can be thinned out, then proceed to reduce their length, creating a new tree-like shape in the process. This should restore the pollard to a tree.
Remove All The New Branches
This seems like a harsh measure, but it can work on some tree species. Although not all tree varieties will respond well to this measure. Consult your local arborist before you make your decision though.
If your arborist gives you the go-ahead, then you can cut off all the new branches that have grown out of the stumps of the old pollards.
A tree variety that responds well to this rejuvenation technique includes the Long Plane (Platanus × hispanica).
For a horse chestnut, they need to be cut to a higher point in the tree, as opposed to cutting back to the original pollards. By doing this, you will avoid exposing too much old wood, and you will create a new set of pollard heads.
With other varieties, like the hornbeam or ash, for instance, retaining some of the new branches has some benefits.
The same goes for some varieties of oak trees, like the Quercus robur and the Q Petraea. They rejuvenate better when some of their main branches are left untouched.
Maintaining A Pollard
If you pollard a tree once, then you need to be regular with annual cutting.
Branches should be trimmed just above the previous pollarding cuts. In a situation where leaf cover is needed, you can spare some of the branches, or cut them back to a side branch.
Failure to maintain a pollard will lead to overgrown, thicker branches than you had before.
Advantages of Pollarding
Besides maintaining tree size, pollarding a tree comes with other benefits
These include –
Top weight reduction: Pollarding a tree means a reduction in its top weight. This is very beneficial if you live in areas that regularly experience strong winds.
It is also great for trees that become brittle when they reach maturity. The Bradford pear tree for instance.
Longer life span: Pollarded trees tend to live longer than un-pollarded trees. This is because they are kept at a juvenile growth level all their lives.
Better access to sunlight: Sunlight is an important part of a tree’s life, whether old or young. But it isn’t just the trees that need it, as it is useful to the eco-system as a whole.
When a tree is pollarded, more sunlight is allowed to reach the ground, and this will boost growth and biodiversity.
It reduces infrastructural risks: Some trees have very limbs that can break off and fall on utility lines. This can be very hazardous and pollarding the tree is a great way to eliminate this risk.
Drawbacks Of Tree Pollarding
While pollarding has many benefits, it also has its downsides.
First of all, pollarding a tree is very expensive, this is because it requires a lot of hard work to get done. If the tree has reached a mature age, then you would most likely need the services of an arborist to pollard it, and these services don’t come cheap.
Sometimes pollarding a tree may be the best option in certain situations. Be sure to consult a professional before you make any decisions.
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