Pollarding is useful and, to some, pretty

By Lee Reich, The Associated Press
Friday January 18, 2002

You either like the look of a tree that has been pollarded, or you do not. It’s not a natural look. This time of year, a pollarded tree presents a trunk capped by a clubbed head, or a trunk with short limbs that are capped by clubbed heads. 

In summer, a mass of vigorous shoots wildly bursts forth from that head or heads. Pollarding is useful for lending a formal appearance to a tree, and for controlling the size of an otherwise large-growing tree. 

Pollarding, which originated centuries ago in Europe, is a specialized technique arrived out of need, as a means to harvest firewood without killing a tree or letting sprouts near ground level be munched by grazing animals. 

Deciduous, fast-growing trees that do not mind being cut, repeatedly are ideal candidates for pollarding. Such trees include tree-of-heaven, black locust, catalpa, chestnut, horse chestnut, linden, London plane tree, princess tree, sycamore and willow. 

You can start creating a pollarded tree right now. Remove branches along the trunk of a young tree to give the tree a high head, with at least 5 or 6 feet of clear trunk. You determine how high a head you want for your tree — it’s all for looks. 

For the pollarded tree destined to become a trunk with a clubbed head, cut back the trunk sometime in winter to the height you want for that head. 

If your pollarded tree is to have stubby limbs growing off the trunk, still plan for a clear trunk of at least 5 or 6 feet. 

But above that length of clear trunk, select some well-spaced limbs.  

Cut off the trunk above the top limb, as well as any other limbs, then shorten limbs that you saved to 2 feet to 5 feet. Also remove any side branches growing off saved limbs. 

A pollarded tree needs to be pruned every winter, or at least every second or third winter.  

Pruning is easy: Just lop all young stems back to within a half-inch or so of where they began growing the previous season. Repeatedly lopping stems back to that point is what develops a knob atop the trunk or at the ends of the scaffold limbs. 

Prune early enough each winter so that you can enjoy the curious look of your pollarded tree when it is leafless.