Scary Plants: Part II

What we do with them and to them…

Steinberg Garden hand Montreal PPA 7-18-06 crop 2

By Debra Knapke

While some plants have scary attributes and uses (see Michael’s post on Scary Plants from October 15th) we often add to the scariness of plants by how we use and abuse them.

Sometimes plants are the backdrop for a scary moment. While on a garden tour at an artist’s home I turned a corner and saw this chilling vignette. You know the feeling: your heart stops for a moment – then you realize it isn’t real… or is it?

But the scariest moments are when I see plants that we have massacred Freddy Krueger style a la the endless Nightmare on Elm Street series.

Below is a variegated English oak that is in my garden. I made the initial mistake of planting it too close to overhead wires. As a result of assuming what I was told was true (this tree only will grow to 15’ tall, max!), it became one of the casualties of a line clearance crew. One day, I came home to see the dreaded blue dot on the trunk. If I had had warning, I would have called in my arborist, but the crew came the next day. After briefly mourning the loss of my tree, I asked the crew to cut down the tree. It is now sprouting from the stump, and I have a variegated English oak shrub.

topped English oak 4-14-15

A topped variegated English oak

Why is poor pruning scary? It stresses a plant, and this increases the probability that insects and disease will be able to get past a plant’s defense mechanisms. A very real consequence of poor pruning is the creation of a “hazard” tree. In some cases, the structure of poorly pruned tree is so compromised that the first windstorm will tear it apart. No one wants to see a large limb fall on a car or a person!

Exhibit B: the pruning of a line of honey locusts at a shopping center in Columbus, Ohio.

Improper pruning

Improper pruning

A close-up look shows us what should never happen to a tree: stub cuts, shredded wood and bark, and topping. I took these pictures in 2003. None of these trees survived.

Kroger frayed stub

Close up of improper pruning

While walking in Cincinnati on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I documented what happens when a homeowner plants a “shrub” that grows 35-40’ tall and wide in its native habitat.  Yews (Taxus species and hybrids) have long been pruned into shape by gardeners who wish to screen or decorate with plants.  In this case, the yews outgrew their space, and the only option was to remove most of their understories. Too bad the stub cuts were left behind.

taxus Cincy 5-1-15 resize

This shouldn’t happen to a yew!

One last picture of scary pruning, this time in my neighbor’s yard: line clearance done without proper clean-up. Lower branches, which had been supported by the branches that had been removed to clear the line, were hanging over the lower wires. Look at the wires just left of the blue spruce. I can only think that this was the last job of the day and last job in our subdivision as there were no trucks to be seen in the neighborhood. After a call to the electric company, the line clearance company sent in a crew to finish what they had started.

Do not stand under this accident waiting to happen; this is a “widow-maker” tree.

Do not stand under this accident waiting to happen; this is a “widow-maker” tree.

So on this Halloween, and all through the year, be on the look-out for scary plants; whimsical and real.

For your viewing pleasure only: an inspired cactus chair and ottoman at the Franklin Park Conservatory in 2008.

For your viewing pleasure only: an inspired cactus chair and ottoman at the Franklin Park Conservatory in 2008.



4 responses to “Scary Plants: Part II

  1. Edreid

    Very good article Debra. We have also suffered from line clearance work – very upsetting.
    Loved the scary plants section. Great fun.

  2. Debra

    Thank you! Line clearance is necessary… and while I hate the way some of the the work is done, I also want to enjoy the benefits of having electricity.

  3. Yikes! I see so much bad and scary pruning, even by landscape crews who are *theoretically* professionals! I always have to wonder who supervises these people, and who is training them in the first place. Unfortunately many homeowners don’t call them on it because they either think it’s the “proper” thing to do, or just assume the so-called professionals know what they’re doing.

  4. Debra

    John – I vet any arborist that I use and recommend to others. EVERYONE in an arborist firm who works on a tree should be a certified arborist, or in the case of the ground crews, in training for his or her certification. In some companies, the foreman may be certified, but other workers may not be certified.
    All firms should be insured and bonded. Arborist is in the top five “most dangerous professions” so I also ask if the employees have taken Safety Certification classes.
    Unfortunately, individuals and corporations look for the cheapest fix. At the commercial site above, the end price was steeper than they knew.

Garden Topics

%d bloggers like this: