Ask a Question forum→Lion-tailing in an old pine, how to prune it now

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San Diego, California
hpashler
May 18, 2020 9:29 AM CST
We have a beautiful old pine tree that was (unfortunately) "lion tailed" (i.e., more than 5 years ago some idiot pruned the interior branches aggressively, leaving the foliage growth concentrated at the ends). We are told that the weight of the lion tails may even break some branches, so we should prune ASAP.

What we can't figure out is HOW this pruning should be done. (Internet advice on lion-tailing is all "don't do it!" rather than "if some jackass did it, how do you make the best of a bad situation?).

Should we take out every other terminal segment? Or what?





Thumb of 2020-05-18/hpashler/7ed303

Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
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DaisyI
May 18, 2020 10:07 AM CST
Welcome!

From you photo, I can't really tell what's going on with your tree. It has quite a lean though.

The problem with pine trees is they have limited growth points. They only grow from branch tips. The interior of the tree, because it doesn't get enough sun, is often full of dead needles and branchlets. Your tree looks more like someone has cleaned out all the interior dead stuff, not lion-tail pruning, which would leave long bare branches with a little pom-pom at the end. Cutting out branches will not encourage more branches to grow. With pine trees, a pruning job is pretty final.

I'm suspecting whoever is suggesting you prune is either a tree service going door to door drumming up business or someone concerned about that radical lean. Don't park your car under it.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada
Webmaster: osnnv.org
San Diego, California
hpashler
May 18, 2020 10:18 AM CST
Thanks!

My picture may not have fully displayed the problem in this rather weird shaped but still very likable old tree.

Two people who I think are real experts have looked at it and both said it needs some pruning. One was a certified arborist. He wanted to do the job, and wanted a very high price for doing the job (or we'd have just had him do it). Another is a tree spraying expert with no conflict of interest--a good guy and honest. He said it was in danger of breaking branches due to all the foliage in the final 1/3 of each of the major branches.

So I think it really does need some pruning just due to weight. What I need to know is basically, for each major branch (of which there are maybe 5) how many cuts? We could make 10 little cuts pruning out small clumps of end vegetation. Or we could make just one or two per branch. Open to suggestions on that.

Thanks again.
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
Image
DaisyI
May 18, 2020 10:35 AM CST
You have to understand pine tree growth to figure out what to do next. Look at the tree branch. Do you see the 'candles', points of growth? You can prune those tips (candles) and the tree will grow from the remaining candles. It will not instigate new growth farther into the tree or along bare branches. The trunk will not sprout new branches either. Growth will always be from those growth tips (candles).

Can you post more photos from different angles and with different views? I'm confused about the 5 cuts and the 10 cuts. Did you ask the arborist exactly what he would suggest and where he would cut?

How long ago was the tree pruned and why are you concerned about the it now? Taking major branches out of a full grown tree has its own risks. Trees grow with wind patterns. If the tree changes or the wind changes, trees and branches break. Cutting something major out could cause more breakage, not less.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada
Webmaster: osnnv.org
San Diego, California
hpashler
May 18, 2020 10:42 AM CST
Here's another picture. Not sure if it will clarify anything. The shape of the tree is VERY weird and I am sorry but I can't even try to put it in words. I don't fully understand it even when I am looking at it. Old twisted gnarly tree that obviously grew in odd ways and was pruned in odd ways and probably lost branches to windstorms or something over the many years.

But I appreciate your reminder of the underlying growth principles. Makes sense that pruning strategy should be based on that.

Turning to your questions/reactions:

1. Not sure how long ago it was pruned. We moved in 5 years ago, could be 6 years ago or 26 or 46 years ago.

2. I should have pressed the arborist for more details when I had him here. My goof.

Sounds like maybe we should just prune out 1/3 of the candles or something?




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[Last edited by hpashler - May 18, 2020 10:44 AM (+)]
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Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
Image
DaisyI
May 18, 2020 11:00 AM CST
Great photo! And great tree. Yes, it might break in the future, ...or not. If it were mine, I would leave it alone. Anytime you prune a tree, you have to deal with the results forever. It doesn't sound like you have a problem with its looks and it goes great with the house. Smiling
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada
Webmaster: osnnv.org
San Diego, California
hpashler
May 18, 2020 11:19 AM CST
Interesting, I wasn't expecting you to say that. But I respect the answer (I am big believer that many problems are best handled by doing nothing, something that MDs in the US with their enthusiasm for prescribing drugs never seem to learn Smiling ).

I will give this more thought and will plan not to do anything dramatic to the tree.

Thanks!

https://garden.org/i/s/hurray....

Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
Image
DaisyI
May 18, 2020 11:25 AM CST
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Thumbs up

PS: you can add emoji by clicking whichever one you choose from the row below the text box. It will show up as words but in 'preview', it will show properly.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada
Webmaster: osnnv.org
Name: Sally
central Maryland
Seriously addicted to kettle chips.
Charter ATP Member Houseplants Keeper of Poultry Vegetable Grower Region: Maryland Composter
Native Plants and Wildflowers Organic Gardener Region: United States of America Cat Lover Birds Butterflies
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sallyg
May 18, 2020 12:00 PM CST
agree 100% with Daisy as to leave it alone, and why.
i'm pretty OK today, how are you? ;^)

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