Lions-tailing – How to increase the likelihood of failure.

Lions-tailing is a terrible but common practice in residential tree pruning. The phrase loins-tailing comes from the look of a pruned branch after this “technique” has been used. The branch will be long and slender with no other branches and a poof of leaves on the end, similar looking to a lion’s tail. We see this practice most commonly with undertrained or new trimmers but unfortunatly there are well-established companies that think this is a good practice. So how do you know if your tree contractor is about to decimate your tree? Some key phrases are:

  • Open it up so the wind blows through
  • Thin it out
  • Crown cleaning
  • Gutting

If you hear any of these phrases STOP and ask for clarification! Make certain you know you are signing up for. Once the branches have been cut it is really hard to put them back.

Why is Lions-tailing bad?

Lions-tailing causes quite a few problems in trees such as:

  • Over elongated branches
    • Loins-tailing pushes all the growth to the tips of the branches causing them to become longer and shifts the center of gravity away from the trunk. This means they are more susceptible to wind and snow loading which results in breaking.
  • Reduced/Too Little Foliage
    • Trees need leaves, that’s how they make their food. On hot days the outer canopy leaves become too hot to photosynthesize so the tree relies on the interior canopy to produce essential sugars.
    • Without sugars, the tree becomes stressed. That leads to a decrease in the ability to resist disease and insects.
  • Reduced dampening
    • When trees have foliage evenly dispersed throughout the canopy the leaves actually help slow the movement of the branch in the wind.
    • When the interior canopy has been stripped there is no dampening and the end of the branch will catch the wind and whip violently causing failure.
  • Sunburn
    • Sunburn happens when branches that are normally shaded are exposed to the sun. The branches will develop open wounds on the tops of the branches as the cells are killed. The easiest place to see this is on trees that have been pruned for electrical clearance.
  • Limited restoration pruning
    • If the tree is damaged during a storm (which is more likely) there are fewer if any options to prune the tree for restoration.

And if all those were not reasons enough to not lions-tail your tree, it will also look like crap.

Case Study of Lions-tailing

Maple tree before lions-tailing
This is the before picture of our maple tree.

The picture above is a before picture of two maple trees in a front yard. These maple trees could use some corrective pruning but are in good shape. A fly-by-night tree crew from out of town came door knocking and the next picture is the result of their work.

A topped tree to the left and a lions-tailed tree to the right.

To this day this picture still blows my mind. Both of these trees are on the same property and were trimmed by the same tree crew, but they were trimmed completely opposite, and yet, still both completely wrong. For this topic, we are focusing on the right tree which has been lions-tailed. As you can tell from the leaf color in the background we are going into fall, so let’s jump forward to the next spring storm with the picture below.

result of lions-tailing
This lions-tailed tree did not make it even a year after it was improperly pruned.

The crew that had done the initial work was long gone when this tree split, so we were the ones that removed this once beautiful tree.

Proper Pruning

Pruning is best left to professional arborists who have the training and knowledge to safely and properly perform the work. If you are needing some pruning done we would love to help prune your trees but also keep them healthy and beautiful. Contact Wellnitz Tree Care to schedule an appointment today. Or check ot this article on how to select a good arborist

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