The Arborists’ Crime….

Maybe locals in New England have heard of “Crape Murder” in the south when the tops of beautiful crape myrtles are hacked off to control size. It’s a sad sight done in the name of pruning every spring but it’s a familiar scene in strip malls and neighborhoods in Virginia.

I had a similar thing take place by the arborists who labored in our neighborhood last week. I’m sure they were hired to work fast with the only tool they carried… the chain saw. I stepped outside to the sound of the saw and to my horror, they had sheared the doublefile viburnum into a ball shape. By the time they saw me, there were only two or three stems left to cut.

doublefile viburnum

This is a species with a naturally graceful horizontal form. In the spring, lacy white blooms line up like soldiers along a bough, developing into tasty drupes adored by birds in the fall. Shearing all the ends of the branches destroys the viburnum’s natural form. Terminal buds are removed and the lateral buds are stimulated to grow creating a water sprout nightmare at the end of each stem requiring more maintenance than ever. And removing the stems this time of year also sacrifices spring blooms and the subsequent fall fruit that birds adore.

What this shrub needed was thinning or trimming back branches that allows the tree to maintain its natural form. Viburnum authority, Michael Dirr, summed up pruning viburnums, “Pruning viburnums should be an exercise in restraint…again, as with so many things, less is more.”

Judging from the broom-like tips of the branches, this viburnum was probably sheared yearly. Once done, is there any help for the shrub? My guess is not… unless it is taken back almost to the ground and allowed to redevelop naturally. Yes, I think I must do that.

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Our Chinese Scholar Tree

We are lucky to experience the beauty of a Chinese Scholar tree (Styphnolobium japonicum) growing in the side yard. It puzzled me at first. I thought it was an ash, then a black locust but when it burst into flower this summer… glorious clusters of creamy white flowers that drooped from the ends of all the branches like wisteria, I knew we had something else here.

It also goes by the name Japanese Pagoda Tree, implying the origin is Japan, however it indeed hails from China’s mountain ranges.  In Kew gardens, there is an original survivor of the one planted in 1760. The tree was introduced to the United States in the early 1800’s and one of the oldest specimens can be seen at Longwood Gardens.

The leaves have turned pale yellow and have fallen from the tree leaving behind unusual pods where there were once flowers. They have the curious look of bright green beads or a string of pearls…. some small, some several inches long. They also bear a resemblance to peas because the tree is indeed a member of the pea family, Fabaceae. Michael Dirr writes: “A very distinctive and aesthetically handsome tree in flower; should be used more extensively.”

Although the tree has been through several freezing nights and the pods are showing signs of the cold, you can appreciate the unusual beauty of this ornamental tree in the fall. It also is supposed to be a lucky tree, a symbol of good luck and happiness. I know I’m quite happy it’s part of our landscape!

Chinese pagoda treechinese.pagoda treeChinese Pagoda Tree