Help! My beloved fern pine tree was overpruned!

PipdogAugust 9, 2011

Hi GW friends,

We had a fern tree (Podocarpus gracilior) in our front yard that provided a ton of shade and was a lovely focal point of our front yard. The tree was starting to encroach on our roof, so we called a trimming service to come out and "shape" the tree.

Unfortunately, they hacked the tree up. Not only did they top off every single branch, most of the foliage in the middle is now gone. They cut almost all of the interior branches. I was so upset that I nearly cried when I first saw the tree - it looks so naked and puny compared to its previous beautiful, imposing presence. And we've lost most of the shade in our front yard.

Can anyone tell me how quickly these guys grow? I know there's generally nothing we can do, but is there *anything* I can help to stimulate re-growth? The tree is in full sun, and we're in Southern California.


Sad in SoCal

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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

I'm not sure what you are expecting from us. You've told us that the tree was 100% topped and that the interior branches were removed. Is there ANYTHING left but a few stubs? The growth rate of this tree is usually considered moderate, but I don't know that that really says much of anything about your particular case. In other words, we need something to go on to give you any analysis. Can you post some pictures? Maybe that would help.

Have you already paid the people that did the work? Did you bother to make sure they were ISA certified before turning them loose in your yard? Where were you when they were doing the work? This may be premature, but it sounds like you hired a bunch of knuckleheads to do their worst and only became concerned once the damage was done.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 11:53PM
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Dan Staley

Stop the check or call a lawyer.


    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 11:56PM
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thanks Dan. I've stopped the check.

I agree your conclusions are a bit premature, brandon. I hired the service after they came recommended by neighbors - I had seen their previous work in the area and thought it looked ok. My question was simply about the growth rate of the tree. Frankly, I bristle at the suggestion that I am to blame (indeed, I already have enough regret - I don't need some internet stranger to make me feel worse). I've gotten some good, constructive feedback in the another forum. Thanks anyway.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 12:08PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

So you did verify that they were ISA certified? And, if you were there, did you at least say something to them while they were doing the damage? The facts are unclear, but it doesn't make sense to me that this result would be the outcome from close supervision and a proper background check.

You came here for advise. You gave almost no useful information. You now seem uninterested in knowing what went wrong. That all seems rather unproductive, and may also help explain the "why"...

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 1:13PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

can you show us some pix??


    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 8:51PM
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Dan Staley

To the point:

but is there *anything* I can help to stimulate re-growth?



    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 8:57PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I think the problem started when you said you wanted your tree 'shaped'. That sounds pretty vague to me. One persons idea of how the tree should be shaped is probably different than yours. Either you should have been more clear in what you expected, or the people doing the work should have asked more questions. With such an unclear description of what you wanted done, I don't think you have a leg to stand on unless the workers severely violated basic pruning standards for that type of tree at that time of year.
A picture would help us give a more complete answer.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 12:22PM
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I really feel sorry for you, and I know that it isn't always possible to be there when a tree company schedules their appointments so you can intervene if necessary and it's possible that wouldn't be appreciated anyway. Also, companies like that doing the same job to two different customers may have one complain enough wasn't taken off and the next say too much. It has to be spelled out even if that takes drawing diagrams, and not left to their discretion. How they prune and trim (assuming they knew what they were doing) may vary with the desired outcome.

It has only been rather recently that a tree care company has even been available with any type of certification in our area. We used one, and I got the impression that the only employee we saw who had a grip on the tree situation was the one who came to give us the initial estimate who then gave directions to the crew and, who were not nearly as experienced. IOW the promise and the delivery were two different things. Happens with a lot of trades, like when I had a g'house wired and had to stop a couple of apprentices mid-stream because they were clueless and the only crew on the job.

We are on our third tree company now and it's a good fit. We have major trees here and it's an on-going issue to keep them in good order or suffer the consequences. I don't trust a new one until they've done minor work and I can see them in action. The owner of the one we use is here through the whole job and he is a good balance of experience, training and reasonable cost. If you only have occasional use for such a service, then it's your job to check credentials. Your trees are a big investment, as you have found out and not easily replaced or repaired. Never base it on cost alone or the first number you see in a phone book.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 6:40PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Based on the limited description provided, if an ISA certified arborist was on site when the pruning was done, I highly doubt the outcome would have been the same (with or without Pipdog present).

It's kind of like if you needed a wedding dress. You could hire the lady down the street because you saw her sew a patch on Juniors jeans and it looked OK, or, you could hire a professional dressmaker.

Being on-site when critical pruning is being done is something I would highly recommend, but hiring an ISA professional should eliminate seriously improper pruning. Being there might allow you to fine tune an OK job so that it's "just perfect".

    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 8:29PM
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Dan Staley

Picture = 1k words.


    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 11:41PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Based on Pipdog's absence, I think she has either came to the conclusion (for whatever reason) that there is nothing she can do to remedy the situation, or, she has just given up and doesn't care (possibly even not wanting to face her role in what happened). It almost seems that she wanted some easy "magical" solution with minimal effort. Without pictures, we may never know of anything could help the situation, but may the tree isn't really Pipdog's main concern. Or, maybe she contacted a pro and things are being addressed properly already.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2011 at 12:16AM
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