Dr. Bob Gilbert – Columnist
Driving down a secondary road the other day I came to a section where the power company was activily pruning tree branches out of the power lines. I was almost stopped in my tracks when I spotted several trees that were hacked not pruned. Karen Lawrence’s photos clearly show how they reduced the branches that were within their lines and left the other unoffending branches untouched. It was like all but the trunks had been cut in half. Imagine having that result being in front of your house and having to look at it for years. I realize the power company is not in the business of doing aesthetic pruning. Also, it makes perfect sense to keep the lines free of branches to avoid power outages. It is not their fault that the homeowner planted or allowed the wrong trees to grow directly under the power lines. All that said it would have taken five minutes or less to have completely reduced all the branches as is done when you pollard a tree. Pollarding is a method of pruning that reduces the upward and outward growing branches to limit a trees height and width. It also eliminates heavy branches that are easily broken with snow, ice and strong winds. One of the trees was done this way. For example, this is often done to crape myrtles, the trees that bloom in the summer blooming with fusions of red, white, purple and pink blooms. Not everyone agrees that this is a good method of pruning. Outspoken critics called it “crape murder.” Pollarding just half the tree is not a pruning style and is totally unacceptable. The word hacking comes to mind.
Information about which trees and shrubs can be planted under power lines and in easements can be found on line or from the power company. The following are a few recommendations about what to plant and where:
Planting next to or close to a power pole:
– A tree that grows 25 feet or less plant at least 10 feet away
– A tree that grows 20-40 feet tall plant 25-35 feet away
– A tree taller than 40 feet plant 25-50 away
– Plants that have a low profile and will stay below power lines such as deciduous trees like Serviceberry, Redbud, Smoke Tree, Dogwood, Star Magnolia, Hawthorn, some Cherries, Japanese Maples
– Moderate shrubs like Witch Hazel, Burning Bush, Forsythia, Viburnum.
Many hybrids and cultivars of conifers after 10-plus years will not grow tall enough not to reach the power lines.
One word of caution. Plant height will always be listed on the attached plant label as well as in a catalog. But what is not included is how many years it took to get to that height. There is not a universal nursery agreement as to whether to list a plants height after 5, 10 or 20 years. My best advice is to check several sources for a plant’s ultimate height and that will help some. For example, I looked up the ultimate height of the popular Chinese Dogwood or Cornus kousa and the heights were listed in feet 13’-34’, 20’-50’ and 20’-30 and there were no heights listed by years of growth. Before planting a tree or shrub try to visualize the ultimate height that will look the best you for that location. Common sense has to be added to the calculation. You can avoid the power line problem entirely by not planting trees or tall shrubs directly under a power line or close to power pole. Dr. Bob Gilbert, now living in Franklin is co-founder of Smith Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw, Ga.
Karen Lawrence who lives in Franklin is a professional photographer of wildlife and horticultural subjects.