Monday, January 4, 2016

Why Pruning Your Trees is Like Raising a Kid

We can all agree that most people can do a better job of raising their kids, right?  Well, suppose the worst parents of all are just oblivious or are repeating some pretty mediocre parenting they received.  If they spent just a tiny amount of time learning about ways to better help their kids grow, it would radically make everything better with even less energy spent in the long run.  We get some training for almost everything else we do in life, why not for parenting, and tree trimming?  By the way, learning from the people on tabloid TV or MTV, or from the guys that stand in front of the liquor store, not the best teachers.

The way I see it, managing your trees is like raising a kid.  Unfortunately, people don't realize for any tree to be a great tree, you have to pay attention to it a few times a year, even if you don't make a single cut.  Trimming it every few years or even less often than that is like ignoring every aspect of what your kid is up to and hoping you can play catch-up, when the kid is all grown up.

For starters, unless you got the tree when it was only a few inches to about 18" tall, someone else already trained it just like a minimum-wage someone raising a baby for you until it's about 3 or 4 years old.  The problem is, nurseries raise trees like they're only expected to be able to be tall and dunk a basketball and nothing else.  No muscle tone and little regard for being a well-rounded individual.

From that point, people may plant a tree and give it just a little bit of trimming at that moment, then do almost nothing else for at least a couple seasons.  The may stake it, which would sorta be like giving your kid a jacket but no pants.  The initial pruning was almost certainly not well-planned or executed.  Staking itself isn't usually a perfect plan, and there's a good argument for NOT staking a young tree, which is like providing a crutch.  One good thing, is that most very young growth is only temporary and pretty easy to correct, sorta like diapers you just throw away instead of an expensive suit that has to last for years.

So a few years go by.  Some of the branches are too long or too large in relation to the size of the tree, or in the wrong place.  So they may get cut back or cut off.  Maybe that's good, but if it's not done right, it's like taking a license away from an underage driver AFTER they got a DUI.  But the kid didn't even understand heavy drinking could lead to any problems.

Jump ahead until the kid is now 15 or 20 years old.  Neglecting pruning every year (or worse, IMPROPER pruning) up to that point is like not paying attention to any of their schooling, physical shape, or habits, and the kid just isn't right.  So you try really hard to correct things, but you need to realize he can never be a world-class anything, but very average at best unless he goes to military school.  You may have such an untrained eye that you don't even see how mediocre your child became.  Not to berate you, because very, very few people have a good eye for a really good tree, including most professionals.  It would be like looking inside a computer and having no idea what any of the doo-dads do.  It's not your fault.  You just weren't trained in such manners.  Imagine if you could suddenly have Steve Wozniak show you what it all means and how to make your laptop run much faster.

There just happens to be another kid in the neighborhood who had good teachers and good parenting.  He never gets in trouble, his clothes are always clean and wrinkle-free, he can have any job he wants and the girls all are giddy around him.  You know how they tell us that we have the potential to be anything?  Trees all start out with an even slate, pretty much. The upbringing accounts for almost all of what it becomes.

So then we get to the point where your little guy is now an adult, say 30 years old.  He's out of shape, clothes are torn, he's in the hospital all the time with infections, has bad habits, and no amount of therapy can be equal to what a great upraising could have accomplished.  Even if you spend thousands, the best that you can hope for is average.  No chance at winning the lottery, even.

Meanwhile, someone else who spent an hour or less 2 or 3 times a year, has a son that turned out great in every way. He needs no rehab, and ends up like someone who had a fantastic but cheap education every year with straight A's compared with someone who went to first-grade and got a D-minus, dropped out of school,  then got an occasional poorly-trained but expensive tutor, and suddenly his parents thought spending a ton to send him to Stanford would make up for all the bad times.

Suppose you spent $100 per year maintaining this wonderful tree, and once it's 30 years old, it only needs to go to a refresher class once or twice a year for an hour.  But this other crappy tree had to be chopped down, or have thousands in rehabilitation costs, along with repairs by a second-rate mechanic who can't do anything about all the dents that can never be fixed.

Which kid would you rather raise?  Which TREE would you rather raise?

Not doing any pruning at all until adulthood comes around is asking for trouble.  Having a completely unqualified pruner trim your tree now and then is like having a drug dealer raise your kid and beat him up.  It's even worse than letting the kid raise himself.

This is all why almost every tree has big problems, at least aesthetically.  Only thing is, most of the problems are unrecognized because the observer can't see what's wrong either because they're not trained to look for things, or because things look good on the surface.  Meanwhile, the best examples of fine trees are in meticulously-maintained parks or Disneyland, where everyone can see how nice they are, even if they can't really pinpoint what's so great.  They just know that they're good examples.  They may wish their trees looked this good, but alas it's too late.  Most of the time.

Suppose your kid was born with a genetic anomaly that requires surgery after they become an adult.  It would be really nice to get the best surgeon you could, to give him the best chance to lead a normal or even exceptional life.  Getting someone who really knows how to work with trees is like having Dr. House, who tends to be able to figure out the best possible remedy while others are just scratching their heads and hanging out in the cafeteria and prescribing the wrong drugs and irritating the impatient patients.  Hopefully your surgeon knows his stuff and isn't so grumpy.

Of course there are other aspects to having great trees, like proper watering, fertilizing, mulching, etc , so pay some attention to those things, too.  But all those things pale in comparison to proper pruning.

Think about your trees early on, frequently, for the long term, and don't ever let butchers get ahold of them under any circumstances.  You'll be super proud of them like your kid growing up to be both an astronaut and brain surgeon with muscular arms, gorgeous hair, dry-cleaned outfits, and nice shoes.  And guess what?  It likely didn't cost much more in the long run to raise them this well than if you totally neglected them until they're in jail, needing an expensive lawyer and a nutritionist and some smokes.

Be a TreeDawg Knight!

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