Need help with maple/elm trees

TGray tgray at
Sat Sep 9 04:16:07 EST 1995

> I have a maple tree which appears to have a wood borer at its base.  
> I see is a hole and I can feel that there is hollow space behind the
> surface.  The local nursery tells me that there is nothing I can do
> spring (I live in Columbus, OH).  Is this true?  All I can imagine is
> critter chomping away all winter long until spring.  Heavens!  This tree
> is not that mature.  Within a few months, the borer might have eaten
> clean through the trunk!

The local nursery is probably right.  A certified arborist in your area
could tell you more about it, but in general, borers are dormant during
the winter.

> Up until four days ago I had a huge elm tree standing in my front yard.
> That was until the electric company came -- and without my permission
> -- obliterated the tree!  They topped it off to 1/4 of its original
> Excuse me, "topped" is not the right word.  "HACK-SAWED* is more like
> it!  They left completely stripped branches sticking up in mid-air, with
> totally *chewed-off* ends.  It's a deplorable sight!

> The electric company said that they had a right to do this because the
> tree was near the power lines.  But they cut branches that were a good
> ten feet away from the power lines, and growing *away* from the lines!
> Needless to say, they have pretty much killed the tree and destroyed the
> curbside appeal of my home.

> What rights do I have, if any?  (The tree IS on my property, not the
> right-of-way.)  Can I insist that they at least "neaten up" the tree,
> because right now it's a torn-up mess.  Can I be compensated for the
> damage -- after all, my yard looks horrible now.  It's almost worth
> removing the tree and planting another, but I can't afford to do that.

> Has anyone else had this happen to them?  What action did you take?

You are definitely not alone.  I can't advise you about your rights, nor
can I assess your tree without seeing it (contact an ISA certified
arborist in your area), but I can steer you toward more information that
you might use to bring your local utility up to date with healthy pruning

It sounds as though your tree was pruned to specifications "by the book." 
Your utility has the right and responsibility to maintain adequate
clearance for its high-voltage power lines.  Ten feet is the correct
target distance for such line clearance.  Unfortunately, this spells doom
for many trees that are too large at maturity to fit under the power

Topping, the procedure used on your tree, is a destructive practice that
has been officially frowned on by the ISA (International Society of
Arboriculture).  To an arborist like myself, "topping" already evokes the
other terms you used.  But it is the only way in some cases for a utility
to establish the needed clearance without removing the tree.

However, it is also possible in many cases to prune tree canopies into a V
shape so they grow around the lines, as you evidently realized.  This has
been done in a few cities, and although it produces an unnatural form,
it's a lot better for the tree than topping.

Try to get a copy of a book on tree systems by Alex Shigo.  He has written
a number of books on trees and how they grow and (particularly) heal.  I'm
not sure whether one may have pictures of trees pruned into a V, but he
has published a lot of information relevant to your situation.  _A New
Tree Biology_ is probably his most complete treatment of the subject.

Unfortunately, none of this information will change what has happened to
your tree, and I doubt from your description whether the tree is worth
saving at this point.  I offer this information so that you have a way to
channel your anguish into improving the way line clearance is done in your
vicinity.  If the tree were worth saving, you would probably not want the
utility to fix it anyway.  Have an arborist look at it and give you a bid.

Best of luck in dealing with this!

T. Gray Shaw

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