Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hort Art - Pollarding

Pollarded tree at the Jardin du Luxembourg

During their recent trip to France my husband and my son took pictures of pollarded trees in the gardens of Paris.  Although they think that they went there at the wrong time because the plants are still bare, I personally think that it is the best time to see the distinguished architectural beauty of pollarded trees.  The appearance of newly polarded trees may exhibit an ignoble sight with their fresh cuts.  Those that have gone through years of this drastic pruning method, however, display an unparalled presence of endurance and persistence through their stubby and gnarled formation.

Pollarded tree at the Jardin du Luxembourg

Pollarding is the method of pruning where the top tree branches and stems are cut back drastically.   Pollarding starts with a maiden tree, a tree that has not been pollarded.  A pollarded tree is called a pollard.  Pollarding results in a flush growth of slender shoots and branches which needs to be removed annually.  The annual attempt of the tree to grow a scar tissue over the repeated cut, results in the formation of bulges at the ends of the branches. 

Pollarded trees at the Jardin du Plantes

Pollarding is very popular in France especially in urban gardens and parks (I noticed from the pictures).  This procedure controls the growth of the plants beyond their space allowances.  Pollarding reduces the canopy cover of trees which is important in maintaining the desired level of shade.  It increases the resistance of the trees to winds.  Root growth is regulated preventing them from being to invasive.

Rows of pollarded trees at the Jardin du Plantes

Rows of leafless tall pollards look stately in the spring.  In the summer I imagine evenly clipped trees that provide a continuous row of shade.  This are not common in California where we live...so I wonder how these tall trees are pruned and how much time, manpower, and Euros are spent in pruning them?   I guess whatever the cost of maintaining them that they are worth it.  


Judith said...

I would like to think that pruning trees during winter (or before buds come out for spring) is an activity done by farmers or hobbyists because there is nothing better to do during a nice sunny winter day. Pruning is like an invitation to nature to hasten the arrival of the long awaited spring. This is being romantic.

Anyway, I find pollards weird and the drastic pruning brutal. But hmm well, this is what happens when people and plants have to coinhabit in proximity or perhaps to induce production of fruits, flowers or the desired shape.

Here in Italy, trees in parks and along roads are pruned with the aide of a crane in winter. In the country, pruning is a very important activity because of the high valued olive trees. Guaio, trouble if you don’t prune the trees before spring! I don’t know though if olive tree pruning can be called pollarding? Maybe this is what is called top pruning? The final appearance of the tree is like a cup, with cascading long branches around to maximize entry of sunlight through the tree, I think.

I think pollarding is highly recommended in certain climate zones only?

Helen Lewis said...

Hi Judith --
I agree that pollarding is a brutal process for the trees. In fact not all trees are recommneded for pollarding. It used to be that trees were pollarded so that farmers could collect the young growth every year to use as fodder, firewood, weaving materials as well as building materials from the trees that their landlords owned. This is very similar to the copiccing which is cutting down the tree to the ground. In pollarding, the main trunk is left intact.

Today pollarding is used both for aesthetic and practical reasons. Pollarded trees are architecturally beautiful (at least for some) and they maintain a smaller canopy (important for small spaces and avoiding power and telephone lines) while encouraging dense and vigorous growth.

I must tell you that I have not been to a real olive grove. I've driven through them but not close to observe much. There are some olive trees here in our parks but they were transported as mature trees. So I went today and studied how they were pruned. I'm guessing that they were pruned for the purpose of "crown-thinning" just like you described to allow good sunlight penetration into the canopy. I also noticed that they were pruned for "crown reduction" which is to remove the upper limbs of the tree. This is important in fruit trees to facilitate harvesting.

So they use heavy equipment like cranes to prune big trees! That makes sense...I've never seen one myself. :) Thanks.

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