Large white pine: effectiveness of reducing crown?

layneev(z6 CT)March 30, 2014

Our tree service has recommended major pruning of five large pine trees in front of our house. They had already been here many years before we moved in about ten years ago, they are about 80-90 feet high. The tree service we use has been pretty good, and about five years ago they recommended (and did) this same procedure, reducing the crowns by 5-7 feet, pruning out other branches. They said it would make the pines more structurally sound in storms. We have many other pines on the property, including four or five that DID fall down in a major windstorm here a couple of years ago when many trees in the area fell. The pines further out in the woody areas are even taller, and they do look quite top heavy. Some of our neighbors have just cut down their big pines. Now that I've seen the relatively tiny root balls, even the pines in front of our house kind of scare me now too:) But I've also read that topping a pine is not good for it, and I'm not sure of the difference between "topping" and "reducing vertical height 5-7 feet." And any pruning of a tree that tall and old sounds a little pointless to me. But I don't want to challenge our tree people without some actual information. Can anyone help with ideas about best taking care of large white pines? Thank you so much!

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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

Residential trees have to be safe, but I'm skeptical. If this were a silver maple which was cut back five years ago I might agree pruning some of the new growth was a good idea....

...I dunno.

My big oak has a semi-cantalevered branch which about 50 feet from the trunk the power company cut back with no ill effects. IMO I also see a benefit to having less weight hanging out that far.

Are ya able to post pictures?

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 8:31PM
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White pine trees are "topped" by the larva of the pine shoot tip moth all the time. That's why they have multiple leaders rather than a single one. It's also why they tend to become 'top heavy' over time. It is one species where deliberate topping does not make the tree look odd or ungainly.

Cutting off the upper 5-7 feet should reduce the chances of wind damage. This upper, dense portion can act like a sail and catch enough of the wind to tip the tree out of the ground or break it off at some point on the trunk. The problem is it has to be done every few years.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 6:27AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i cant conceptualize the situation without a pic

since its done previously.. my gut asks ... is this guy just making repeat business???


    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 6:40AM
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layneev(z6 CT)

Thank you all so much. With luck, here are a few pics. Not sure you can tell much (except that I'm not a very good photographer:). I really appreciate the input. I just noticed that there is also a Conifer forum, I apologize if I should have been posting this question there instead. But I very much appreciate your help!

Here is a link that might be useful: Front Pines

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 10:48AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

conifers are trees.. and basically... both types of peeps hang in both forums... so nothing lost ... nor gained in duplication ....

besides... what we are talking about.. is the same for each type ... so you arent going to get much opposing views in the other place ...

anyway ... pines have a limited life.. and yours are basically past their prime .... wwwaaayyy past ...

i would seriously start thinking about removal ... no need to be making this guys boat payment every year ...

once removed.. you can replant.. and move on with life ...

there is no need to shock yourself.. and do them all at once.. and that sometimes helps the budget ... by spacing out removal.. you can get used to the new opportunities... and often.. in hindsight.. you wish you ended up doing them all at once ...

and if removal is an option in the next few years.. dont pay this guy to make them look better until then ... use your money wisely ...

also ... i dont see your house.. but if they predate construction... that may have stressed the trees.. and lead to some level of the decline ... we see many.. many posts.. about people who build in a tree lot.. and not long after construction.. a few years.. various trees go into decline due to soil compaction.. thats all speculation.. unless you tell me i was right ...

good luck


    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 1:02PM
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layneev(z6 CT)

Thanks, Ken, very interesting. Probably expensive, but still interesting! The house is quite a bit older, oldest part 1840s, I think a lot of the pines in this whole area were planted in the 50s as demarcation lines, but the family who lived here before us planted these, I think, in the 60s some time. She told me, "They were so small! Then suddenly ...." Suddenly meaning decades, but I definitely understand the feeling:) But I thought pines lived for hundreds of years, why do you think these are so far past their prime (and I'm definitely not saying they're NOT, I'm just curious about what one looks for, how you could tell right away, etc.)

I would hate to take them all down, they provide a lot of privacy, and I hate cutting down ANY tree, but I agree, sometimes after it's done, I wish I'd done it earlier. Anyway, this is very useful information, thanks so much, you've given me a lot to think about. And I certainly agree that if we're going to remove them at some point, might as well save the money and skip pruning. UNLESS it really is a safety thing. I wouldn't be doing the pruning to make them look better, I'd only do it if I thought it would contribute to their storm-worthiness. Thank you again!

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 2:44PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Taking 6 ft. of live top off the top of a mature tree is a bad idea.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 12:40AM
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I agree with bboy. Topping a tree disfigures it, causes massive, unhealthy growth and is an invitation to insects and disease. I have been a landscaper for many years and I cannot tell you the number of beautiful trees I have seen destroyed by this practice.

I firmly believe topping was made a 'necessity' by tree firms to add to their profits. Trees can grow quite well without any interference or 'help' from people.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 12:51AM
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The photos show the typical multiple leaders that have resulted from attacks by the pine tip moth or pine weevil. This is the charactristic growth pattern of white pines throughout New England. They are not past their prime in the sense that they are nearing the end of their natural life span.

Selective cutting back of the tops so that the trees are reduced to a single leader can be done, but it would be an ongoing process. Especially if the pines are growing in sandy soil, there is some danger that the dense growth at the top will provide so much wind resistance that the trees can be levered out of the ground. Very strong winds have the potential to break off the tree along the trunk for the same reason.

Like most white pines, especially those that are planted too close together, these are already filled with dead wood because lower branches are shaded out as the tree grows.
This also creates a hazard - they're not called "widow makers" for no reason - if the trees are close to the house.

Topping is rarely a good practice, but in this case you've been given good advice by the tree service. The pines will not look radically different after some of the tops are cut out and will be less prone to storm breakage. Removing some of the trees and having the dead wood pruned out on those left might be an alternative to removing all of them.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 6:22AM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

FYI, when European settlers arrive in eastern North America, there were groves of Eastern White Pine to 240' tall. Basically filled the niche that the Redwoods do on the west coast. Of course all these giant White Pine have long ago been cut down, but your trees are still adolescents. Problem is they are not growing in a "natural" environment where many potential problems would not occur, but also what would not be a problem in a natural environment becomes a problem to humans. I personally would probable let them be as they are, but then again WP is not one of my strong interest species.


    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 9:37AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Selective removal of small, superfluous leaders is not arbitrary top pruning (topping). Removal of sections 6 ft. long sounds like arbitrary top pruning, or what may have a similar effect on the tree as arbitrary top pruning. As always, it depends on the specific circumstances involved.

However, it is true that as in other areas of commercial practice there is a history of hokum being promoted by tree services. That's why A. Shigo called his book Modern Arboriculture.

This post was edited by bboy on Tue, Apr 1, 14 at 14:43

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 1:16PM
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layneev(z6 CT)

I sincerely appreciate these perspectives, thank you for sharing your knowledge. I am looking at these pines quite differently now but at least I know a little more about HOW to look at them. Thanks again, all this information is very welcome.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 3:01PM
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