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Pollard (noun, verb) - An Ancient Technique for an Updated Tree

Pollarding is an ancient technique used selectively by Atzinger Gardens. Pollarding is the aggressive cutting back of the upper branches of a tree to the secondary branches near the trunk of the tree. The pollarded tree then sends up a dense head of new growth. This practice has been used for centuries to manage trees, primarily for agricultural or ornamental purposes, and it has become an increasingly popular method of urban tree management in recent years because of its use in reducing large trees to fit into a manageable space. Use this method of pruning for a look that suggests medieval European orchards and monasteries.

A successfully pollarded Acer plantanoides (Norway Maple) at a client's home in Canton.


Process for Pollarding

Pollarding can benefit trees in stimulating new growth, reducing the risk of damage from wind and snow, and improving the tree's overall health and appearance by allowing more light and airflow to enter.

The process of maintaining a pollard involves cutting the upper branches of a tree back to a predetermined point, typically just above the last pollard cut. The timing of pollarding is essential, as it can significantly affect the tree's growth and overall health. Generally, the best time to pollard a tree is during the dormant season, typically in late winter or early spring. This timing ensures that the tree will be able to produce new growth quickly once the growing season begins. Maples (Acers) should not typically be pruned aggressively at this time because of their heavy sap flow.


Which Tree Species Can Be Pollarded?

Only certain species of trees can be pollarded. These include willows, poplars, oaks, elms, hornbeams, sycamores, and some maples. The type of tree that is best suited for pollarding will depend on the species' growth habits - how quickly does it heal, push new buds, and send up new growth?

For example, willows and poplars are often used for pollarding because they are fast-growing and can tolerate heavy pruning. These trees can be pollarded annually to keep them at a manageable size and promote new growth. On the other hand, oaks and elms are slower-growing and require less frequent pollarding, typically every 3-5 years.

It's important to note that not all trees are suitable for pollarding. Most conifers (except Taxus/yews), do not respond well to pollarding and may become damaged or weakened as a result. Additionally, trees that have been pollarded in the past may not respond well to additional pruning, as the repeated removal of upper branches can cause stress to the tree and weaken its overall structure.

In-progress work on apple tree pruning using a technique similar to pollarding.

Maintaining a Pollard

Regular pruning is essential to maintaining healthy pollards, as it helps to stimulate new growth and prevent the tree from becoming too dense or top-heavy. Typical pruning techniques also come into play, such as removing any dead or damaged branches, thinning out crowded areas, and shaping the tree to maintain its desired size and shape.

In addition to regular pruning, it's important to monitor the tree for signs of stress or disease. Signs of stress can include wilting, yellowing leaves, and reduced growth, while signs of disease may include cankers, fungal growth, or insect infestations. If any of these symptoms are present, it's important to take action immediately to prevent further damage to the tree.

Pollarding can be a highly effective method of tree management when done correctly. By carefully selecting the right trees for pollarding, choosing the appropriate timing and frequency of pruning, and maintaining the tree's health and appearance through regular care, pollarding can help to create healthy, attractive, and well-managed trees. However, it's important to work with trained horticulturists to ensure that the process is done safely and effectively.


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