A recent vacation took me to the Coachella Valley (Palm Springs area).  The average daytime temperature during June and July is around 107 degrees F.  Consequently,  trees that create shade here are a significant resource.  It’s remarkable to observe developed areas of the desert where lush landscapes imply that water is plentiful.  However, as in most Southern California cities, water is a resource that should not be wasted due to limited rainfall (2”-4” per year in the Coachella Valley).

A grove of native California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera), a classic Palm Springs natural landscape

One day, my wife and I were eating breakfast on our shady patio in 90 degree weather.  The landscape team came cruising through like a swarm of bees, assaulting trees with pruning loppers in hand.  The results were quick, yet atrocious.  The trees were all left in a similar condition:  hacked branches, awful stubs, ripped limbs from poor pruning cuts, and hedge-like canopies.

Ripped and bleeding trunk from poor pruning cuts, other large stubs are hard to see in the photo but close inspection can see them throughout the crown

To make matters worse, many trees begin their lives disadvantaged and soon begin leaning due to their poor root structure from defective nursery stock.

Leaning California pepper (Schinus molle) here…there…
and everywhere!  This is consistent with this species throughout the property.  All peppers were planted at the same time, suggesting that all were root bound before they were installed.

Then, typically, trees remain staked for many years, and strangulation of their stems are evident.

Trunk girdling from long term staking
Guaranteed, this poor little acacia isn’t going anywhere
This one tried to escape…

On this property, there were too many trees on site, more than normally planted in a residential or commercial landscape.  The trees crowd each other and restrict the growth of their natural and aesthetically pleasing, spreading crowns.  Aside from the palms, trees are cut to keep them short, uniform and accessible by ladders and coarse tools with long handles.  Are these trees or shrubs?

There were over 30 trees planted along a narrow walkway where half the number would provide adequate shade, offer more aesthetically pleasing form, and reduce water and maintenance costs

Despite my disappointment in the method of tree care on this property, I think about the hardworking landscape crew who work under challenging climatic conditions to keep the place green and tidy.  They cut trees without the basic knowledge about how trees grow and respond to poor pruning.  As a result, trees are managed as giant shrubs.  Staff and crews fail to understand the value of trees and cost saving benefits associated with employing proper design, tree selection, planting, and subsequent care.  Installing trees with healthy, spreading root systems in appropriate locations can provide the benefits of less maintenance, less water, and a more beautiful landscape as trees are allowed to develop into their natural form and grace.  The end result is a more beautiful and less costly landscape.

Poor pruning practices prompt me to consider the knowledge missing from the trimming practices of these landscape workers and how things can be done more effectively with the help of certified arborists.  Are property owners aware of the loss in value and benefits of their trees when improperly maintained?  Are there resources for training managers and work crews?  Is there motivation to learn?   Are there currently options to remove crowding and defective trees, restructure salvageable ones, and reduce water use, and landscape maintenance, while expanding shade canopies, and improving the form, health, and longevity of the trees?

These problems are universal and perhaps create business opportunities for this consulting arborist and others, to teach and train.  Arborists may need to offer comparative analysis between old school and appropriate tree maintenance that illustrate cost savings and benefits of proper tree selection, installation, and maintenance.  Maybe its time for me to get back to work.  There are an abundance of giant tree shrubs calling for help.

How can I help you with your trees?

Treemendously yours,

Bill Spiewak

The Lighter Side of Trees

California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) on the left; Cell Phone Date Palm (Phoenix celltoweriana) on the right


  1. Are you ever on vacation? I enjoy reading your thoughts, insights and suggestions. Keep them coming!

    1. Cinthia, Some people think I’m always on vacation. Leaving for Oregon tomorrow (8/4) for the Tour des Trees (see previous blog for link). It’s a lot of work but still a vacation of a different sorts. Thanks for the feedback on the blog.

  2. Just came across your blog. Love the photo of the cell tower palm trees. Is a new cultivars or var. (I’m beeing facetious)
    Did you take it?

  3. They’re real? The cell phone tower one, I mean. I love that they come in a trio, I sense some sort of a power from it all. We have a mechanical tree here too, I’m not sure if they thought they were going to trick people but it looks real from afar. But how Earth would you combine a real palm and a cellular signal tower part? Beyond words.

    -Ken Nicely

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