GIMME SHELTER- Butchered tree: What to do when magnolia gets limbed

Dave Rosene
Certified Arborist & General Manager, Van Yahres Tree Company


Q: I hired what I thought was a reputable tree company to trim a few limbs near the base of a grand old magnolia– fifty years old– that totally protects my property and serves as my grandchildren's favorite place to climb. Well, they misunderstood and took off all the limbs to a height of at least seven feet. The tree is ruined. It looks ridiculous. What can I do?

A: Unfortunately, a tree like that doesn't tend to generate low branches, and you're obviously not going to be able to replace it with a comparable tree, but the plus side is that magnolia branches tend to droop.

It always seems like such a shame to give up on such an established tree. So here's what I suggest.

Get some string– something natural colored, not bright orange or anything that's going to stand out. And put some stakes in the ground, and use the string to pull the branches down– to encourage what the tree already tends to do, instead of waiting for nature to take its course.

If you decide to replace the tree, you can probably buy one, but it's going to be really expensive. I've seen huge mature oak trees brought in on tractor trailers, but that's kind of ridiculous.

Also, the larger the tree, the larger the root ball, and the lower the chances of a successful transplantation. And magnolias don't transplant very well because they have a very fleshy root system– it's quite soft. So it doesn't lend itself to transplanting.

You can move almost anything if you're willing to throw enough money at it. But trying to transplant big trees is risky at best. So see if you can get its branches to droop. See if you can encourage it to have some lower canopy by bringing down the upper canopy.

I'd hate to give up on a 50-year-old tree.