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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2018:11:28 10:43:02

Hagerstown cherry.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2018:11:24 14:36:53

SUBMITTED PHOTOS Watson's, Ocean City.

Now that the leaves are down – okay, maybe every oak leaf is not down yet – the ghosts of prunings past can no longer hide themselves. Being fully exposed for the winter months, landscape trees tell the human dimension of their past. In my recent travels, two of these ghosts came and told me their stories. The photos prove that unlike for Scrooge, this was not only a nightmare.

At Watson’s Regency in Ocean City, New Jersey, the ghost of a mature pear appeared to me. Ocean City is full of flowering pears. Pears usually start in the landscape as lovely, eight foot specimens that delight for a week or two each spring with a showing of delicate, white flowers. But these small beauties eventually push toward a mature height and width that easily triples that initial planting size. Sometimes, a pear’s human begins to fight back soon, and the ghost of the losing bonsai battle is revealed by crowded, thick stubs only four or five feet from the stem. This was not the case at Watson’s. Instead, as the photo shows, the tree was two stories tall before the property manager panicked and called the “tree guy.”

“It’s too big. Can you cut it back for me?”

“Sure,” said the tree guy, and soon he pulled his shiny bucket truck up alongside the tree, and indiscriminately chainsawed the lengthy limbs back to a story and a half. He was in and out in an hour and a half, and the property manager checked that job off her list. There was never a discussion about which limbs encroached upon the building, parking lot or sidewalks. (We know this because all the limbs were cut back.) There was no discussion about making reduction cuts to laterals 1/3 the diameter of the limb. (We know this because the cuts have stub ends, and the nearby sprouts are mere twigs). The ghost of prunings past shows us that by improper pruning, both Watson’s and its neighbors lost an asset and gained an eyesore.

A few hundred miles to the west, at a Marriott property in Hagerstown, Maryland, a prouder ghost appeared to me, showing me various ornamental cherries that had received proper pruning cuts. In the photo, the fact that only a trained eye can see where the cuts might have been shows us that the cuts were properly done. Unlike the Watson’s pear, the Marriott cherry has a gradual taper from stem all the way to twig. I was able to inspect the trees in person, and I could see that past pruning wounds were healing well, and the pruning was intended to provide clearance for landscaping, visibility and parking.

But the crowded interior twigs continue to call for additional work. Of what history are the pruning ghosts reminding you this winter?

Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business. Reach him at