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Pruning, trimming, lopping and aerial wood-cutting.

By Jean-Jacques Segalen (jjacquesApril 26, 2009
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As a previous article on secured tree climbing raised interest amongst many readers, I thought it would be instructional to go a step further and present now trimming up large trees, a rather technical and dangerous activity but sometimes necessary.

Gardening picture 

  ImageTree-trimming has always been part of lumberjacking, the idea being to remove branches or tree tops that may interfere with the correct felling of a large tree. It is also a common activity for people growing fruit trees as they need to give them a shape that will later on facilitate both phytosanitary work (spraying) and harvest. But paradoxically, tree-trimming has taken more importance with the growing of cities and suburbs where people have smaller gardens and may grow trees which are soon oversized for the space. Trees do have a place within cities but they also have to follow urban rules and must be tamed, just like pets. Low branches will be trimmed to allow cars and buses to drive underneath; high trees giving too much shade will be shortened; dead or sick parts which may unexpectedly fall must be removed. Of course many people will happily grab a ladder and saw or chainsaw and start trimming the tree. This might be safe on small trees with enough free space around them, but it is dangerous when it comes to towering oaks with large main branches overhanging roofs or precious plants.

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I will provide the basics of the job, in terms of techniques and gear--but please do not try to do it if you are not 100% certain you know what you are doing.  This is a perilous activity and even well-trained professionals have accidents, often leading to casualties and even death. Another important consideration (which often eludes weekend trimmers) is that the tree is a living organism with a whole system inside.  Any operation on the tree will have repercussions. This is why a seriously trained arborist is skilled not only in climbing and tool-sharpening, but also in biology so as to understand what happens if you remove too much foliage or you cut into a limb. Depending on the tree species and the time of year, some work will be possible while some would be a complete mistake.Image

  ImageSo now let us imagine we have to cut those two branches growing over the neighbour's glasshouse which he  wants to be removed before next storm. Basically the climbing techniques and tools will be the same as for secure tree climbing. But there will be a few things to add, of course. As we will be using sharp tools and we do not want to provoke an haemorrhage while suspended high up on a rope, protective clothes are a prerequisite. From toes to ears; safety footwear with an iron shell to keep your toes where they belong, chainsaw-proof pants, jacket and gloves, helmet with mesh screen and ear protectors. The chainsaw-proof garments are not very elegant (Gucci does not make any) and they make you sweat a lot but once you have seen what a chainsaw can do on human flesh you are ready to cover up.  They do not prevent cuttings the same way iron does, they are made of many layers of special fibres which are designed to jam the chain and stop it. A chainsaw is an extremely powerful and dangerous tool which has to be perfectly mastered at ground-level before you can use it in a tree.  Even the new models with advanced security can bring you down much faster than you wish. Recreational tree-climbing makes use of a lanyard (a short rope used as second lifeline); tree-trimmers will also carry a lanyard with a steel wire core so that it will resist (at least for a few seconds) cutting tools.  This lanyard will be much heavier, more expensive and more difficult to use than a recreational climbing lanyard. Our harness will bear a special hook on which to clip the chainsaw while climbing and working.  This is a specialized chainsaw for arborists--much lighter than one for timber and with the possibility of one-handed use (another potential danger...).Image Ready to climb with all those extra kilos? Great then, let me add a few more. You do not want to smash your neighbour's very expensive glasshouse do you? Well then, you got to take an extra rope with you, a pulley, a carabiner and a webbing sling. The sling will be attached on a large branch over the one you want to cut, the pulley attached to the sling with a carabiner. The extra rope will then go through the pulley and will be secured to the branch you Imagewant to cut, using a clove hitch, Image cow hitch or a timber hitch--just make sure it holds! The other end of the rope will go back down to the ground and pass through a braking device resembling a figure "8", attached to the base of the trunk with a large sling and the very end will be held by your buddy. Never ever engage into this kind of work alone--a second person on the ground is essential.  This person must be able to climb and lower you safely in case of problems and if that isn't possible, they can at least call for help. The second person will also direct you from the ground as he may see things and problems you can't see once you're up there. So start your chainsaw, heat it up a while, stop it and move up. Or maybe it sounds wiser to call a professional? It sure would if you just have those two branches to cut!  All this gear costs about $2500, and your own life is priceless...Image

 

I hope this article gives you some insight into what tree-trimming is all about; it is a good activity and will keep you fit.  Remember extra precautions and advanced techniques are required when working in the vicinity of power lines and rescue applications. Everyone can trim trees, it just depends at what height...


  About Jean-Jacques Segalen  
Jean-Jacques SegalenI am a Parisian born professional horticulturist specialized in tropical seeds producing, living on Reunion island (just between Mauritius and Madagascar) for 22 years . I spend a lot of time gathering seeds in the wild, the ones I do not grow that is. Also a dedicated Tai-Chi practitioner and fully certified arborist-tree surgeon Just released my first book on tropical plants and fruits, check it out at barbardine.com

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Discussion about this article:
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Tree Chi Potagere 13 53 Apr 28, 2009 4:10 AM
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