UNITED STATES—Very few arborists in America condone the extreme pruning techniques known as pollarding and coppicing. Both techniques essentially ruin trees, and deprive them of their natural form. Affected trees likely require such procedures to be repeated every few years or annually. Otherwise, they are likely to succumb to resulting structural deficiency. Restoration of such trees is rarely practical.

Pollarding is severe pruning to remove all except the main trunk and a few or perhaps several main limbs. Coppicing is even more severe, and leaves only a stump. Both are done while subjects are dormant through winter. Most or all new growth that develops is spring is concentrated around pruning wounds of the previous winter. Some coppiced stumps generate growth from the roots.

If pollarded or coppiced annually, all growth that developed during the previous season gets pruned cleanly away to where it grew from since the previous procedure. Distended ‘knuckles’ develop at the ends of pollarded limbs or coppiced stumps as the pruning is repeated for a few years. ‘English’ pollarding leaves a well oriented stub of any desired length to slowly elongate each knuckle.

Pruning wounds should be as flush to each knuckle as possible, without intrusive stubble. The many small pruning wounds left on each distended knuckle will compartmentalize (heal) efficiently as new growth develops during the following season. Pruning below a knuckle might seem to be more practical, but leaves a single, but big wound that could decay before it gets compartmentalized.

Delaying pruning for a few years creates bigger wounds, and allows innately structurally compromised stems to get heavy.

Pollarding and coppicing were developed a long time ago to produce kindling, fence stakes, cane for basketry, and fodder for livestock, as well as silkworms. Nowadays, it is done to contain big trees, enhance the size and color of leaves, produce juvenile foliage, produce colorful twiggy growth, or prevent unwanted bloom or fruit. Not many trees are conducive to such severe techniques.

Highlight: California sycamore

California sycamore, Platanus racemosa, is a riparian species that wants to be a chaparral species. It seems to passively mingle with valley oaks and coast live oaks in chaparral regions. Yet, it stays close to rivers, creeks, arroyos, or low spots where water drains from winter rain. California sycamore does not follow waterways far up into forests though, as if it dislikes the deeper shade.

In urban situations, California sycamore is best for large scale landscapes, such as parks or medians of broad boulevards. It is complaisant enough for smaller landscapes, and tends to disperse roots too deeply to damage pavement. However, it grows so fast and so very big. Mature trees get to a 100 feet tall. Massive trunks are picturesquely irregular, with mottled tan and gray bark.

All the deciduous foliage generated by such large trees is generous with shade for summer, but stingy with color for autumn. Defoliation starts early and continues late, so is messy for a long time. Foliar tomentum (fuzz) is irritating to the skin, and much worse if inhaled. Anthracnose often deprives trees of their first phase of foliage in early spring. Although harmless, it makes another mess.

Horticulturist Tony Tomeo can be contacted at tonytomeo.com.