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<Martie Lauster>
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I have four Catalpa Speciosa trees in my front yard. It is a 150 year old house and at some point MANY years ago - these trees were cut off at a level of about 5 feet - which caused them to sprout many branches - making them look like umbrellas.

We have had two severe ice storms in the past ten years - which have badly damaged two of these trees. They recovered - but have grown back in their original, tall form.

I would like to re-create the umbrella effect and want to know when the best time would be to make the cut. I'm thinking it might be now - when they are just beginning the season's growth?
 
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<Mark Goodwin>
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Reply to post by Martie Lauster, on May 31, 2003 at 08:14:35:

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "umbrella effect". Do you mean that the trees have only horizontal branches at a certain height, so that the leaf bearing branches are flattened in a low, spreading form?

This species is noted as being brittle, and since you have already related a history of ice-related breakage, I assume the original trees probably broke from weight of ice and were cut lower. Whether intentional or not, you inherited trees that have been "topped" and have regrown from buds released as a result of top-pruning. The natural tendancy of most trees is to grow upward, increasing the structure that supports the light-collecting leaves.

You can try to keep the tree as a vertically limited tree, I suppose, through a method called Pollarding. The stem/stems you retain will get larger, but not as fast or as big as they would if left alone. It is labor-intensive, and there is entry of decay into any sizable pruning wound, especially at the initial heading cut. So, the smaller the stem chosen for pollarding, the better the tree will compartmentalize decay. See the site linked below. Catalpa is mentioned as a candidate for pollarding. I suggest you search around for more points of view on the pollarding technique. If you don't want to be doing this pruning yourself, you should find out if there are tree workers in your area familiar with this technique to do it for you.
 
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<Martie Lauster>
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Reply to post by Mark Goodwin, on May 31, 2003 at 08:14:35:

Thank you so much! I have never heard this term before and had no idea how the heck those trees got that way. I did a bunch of reading up on the net and now understand what it is we're dealing with here. These trees have definitely been pollarded - but have not had the required maintenance. They do have kind of a ball effect on the top of the trunks which are about 4-5 feet high - but I thought of them as umbrella shaped because of the large leaves which hung in a shape that suggested this. Now that I understand more about this - no wonder they were damaged so easily! They are probably beyond repair at this point - two of them have reverted to normal trees - and two of them are trying valiantly to maintain their pollarded shapes.

I know now it is not as simple as just topping them off - and will re-think the whole situation out there. Thank you very much for your help.

Martie
 
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