Pruning over the House: Less Can Be More

March 25, 2020 · 2 minute read
Pruning over the House: Less Can Be More

We love our trees and we love our home. How do we mingle the two amicably in a way that will last the duration of time (or at least our time)?

Richmond’s urban forest offers an abundance of positive qualities both environmentally and aesthetically. In some places, the canopy is thick enough that, if lucky, we can find our own cozy living dens beneath in its shade.

As an arborist, we often get asked for advice on whether or not to remove growth from trees that overhang a client’s home. The conversation typically goes as follows: “We love our trees but we want our home protected, so we would like everything growing over the house to be removed.” Homeowners embrace the idea that if anything breaks in the tree, it will fall somewhere other than on the house. Seems to make sense on the surface as it did to me early in my career. However, over the years we’ve found that what seemed like a logical solution, removing all growth over the roof, has the potential to do more harm than good. 

We’ve done many broken limb “rescue” climbs to remove branches over a roof that have fallen from somewhere high in the canopy of a tree. Usually the limb is either entangled in the lower limbs over the house or laying brushy side down on the roof and still attached to the tree. 

Because of this, we’ve noticed that this lower growth was helping to catch or slow the impact from the higher canopy limbs and usually with little to no damage to the roof. Just as often, I’ve extracted limbs out of rooftops and even home interiors that resulted from a straight free fall out of the top of a tree and I’ve heard many times “We’ve always maintained our trees…” meaning growth over the roof was always removed.

I’ve also seen the health effects of “side-walling” trees near and over the house and the harm that over-pruning can do. Removing all growth from over a house often means removing up to 50 percent of the tree’s food source as well as opening it up to pest infestations that attack it in it’s weakened state. 

Clearance between the roof and the limbs is important however to allow airflow and light and prevent the build-up of moss and mildew. So some pruning is definitely needed.

In a nutshell, trees with simple and correct maintenance, but not overmaintenance, can offer protection and provide our homes with beauty, character and, with a good amount of love, survive the duration of time.

“…Give me a home among the gumtrees

With lots of plumtrees

  A sheep or two, a k-kangaroo

  A clothesline out the back

  Verandah out the front

  And on old rocking chair…”  

John Williamson