Fall Color Marred by Cleavage

Fall Color Marred by Cleavage
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Guest Rant by Wendy Kiang-Spray

I am not an arborist.  Nor am I a landscape architect, city planner, neighborhood developer, or anything of the sort. This is why I’m so confused about the planting of large trees under phone and power lines.  Throughout my neighborhood, these trees grow so large that they need to be viciously pruned regularly.  The beautiful color this time of year highlights only the part of the tree that actually exists.  It’s impossible to admire the gorgeous trees in my community with their brilliant oranges and golds and not notice that through the top center, many trees are cleaved practically in half.  It always makes me think of the T-1000 in Terminator 2.  Unlike the liquid-metal robotic villain in the movie though, the poor trees can’t recompose.

A little over 10 years ago, I planted a Southern magnolia about 5 feet from my house.  That…might be a problem if the tree grows to its full size.  But hey, I was young, just bought a house, and nothing makes one feel more adult than planting a tree.  All I knew at the time was that it was pretty and I wanted it.  But the arborists, or city planners, or landscape architects, don’t they know better?  Shouldn’t they have better options for types of trees that should be planted right up under the telephone and power lines?  Doesn’t it make more sense to choose the right kind of tree rather than sending an army of trucks out to whack the tops of these way-too-tall trees every year?  Perhaps there’s some very good explanation for this.  Just a layman here.  Can someone help me understand?

Wendy Kiang-Spray is a freelance garden writer working on her first book about growing and cooking Chinese vegetables. She gardens in Rockville, Maryland and volunteers with the DC Master Gardeners. Follow her garden happenings at Greenish Thumb or on Facebook.

Posted by

Wendy Kiang-Spray

on November 7, 2013 at 8:10 am, in the category Everybody’s a Critic, Guest Rants.


    • Susan
    • 5th July 2015

    Wendy, I live in western NY, and they do the same damn thing up here in my town. It started in 1991 when the area was hit by a massive ice storm. One road in particular was thickly lined with trees, and it took weeks before it was all cleaned up, so now they do “preventive maintenance”. They go through the power line areas and donut hole the trees! It looks absolutely hideous, and yet the power company does it year after year. In fact, they recently went through a street in the next town over that had big old trees and butchered them. The residents were up in arms, and the power company’s response was that they had a trained arborist supervise the work. Trained baboon, more like!

    • Wendy
    • 28th December 2015

    Yes! same story here. We’ve had a lot of the dreaded “wintry mixes” recently and PEPCO, which is a whole other rant, has been coming around with their contractors. I suspect this is a big part of why our neighborhood is so chopped up.

    • Susan hines
    • 26th August 2016

    I feel your pain. At one point, many cities planted the Bradford pear in response to the same concerns you express regarding power lines. Unfortunately, these trees, AKA lolly pop trees proved short lived on and not particularly stable.

    • Karin
    • 6th November 2016

    In recent years telephone poles have had thick fiber optic cables attached lower down on the pole than the original thin telephone lines in my neighborhood. Now the city or the utility company comes and butchers older trees that once were fine with the higher lines. It’s ugly topiary on a grand scale

    • Wendy
    • 9th November 2016

    Now that you mention it, I’ve noticed they’ve come around and installed lines higher up (the opposite of your neighborhood). I’m looking outside and these lines are about…15 feet higher. Not enough to clear the tops of the trees though.

    • Rebecca Caley
    • 9th November 2016

    Oh my! I thougth I was the only one. Like wow. Not alone!

    • Chris
    • 10th November 2016

    This is a very interesting issue where I live. First the city wants us to plant trees, but not ones that interfere with utilities (not only electrical but water/sewage!). So along with requiring developers to plant trees when they build a house on a teeny tiny lot, they have rules for planting trees near utilities (oh, and don’t forget sight lines at intersections for drivers!):

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