Ever since the Mulberry Tree was outlawed by the El Paso City Council in 1992, the tree has had a rough life in the area. But the ban is nothing when compared to what El Pasoans do come Springtime. Quite bluntly: residents have taken to butchering their trees by “topping” them.
I have traveled all over the country and to many parts of the world and have never seen anything that comes even close to how trees are treated in El Paso.
As I drive around the city, I have started to see signs of toppings and knucklings already being carried out by many El Pasoans, who simply do not know any better.
All across town, El Pasoans have learned – by example – how to top and knuckle their trees. This method of pruning involves cutting the branches off a tree from the top down, in an effort to “make the tree stronger” or “keep the tree small.”
Every spring many residents ritualistically “top” and “knuckle” their trees with those intentions in mind. What they do not realize is that they are helping to kill off what little trees El Paso has left.
There are many reasons why these pruning practices must be discouraged. Most people are unaware that pruned trees must be properly sealed to prevent the tree from “bleeding out.” Trees that “sap out” encourage the spread of the Western Bark Beetle, wasps and a whole host of other insects that prey on trees.
Currently there is a bark beetle infestation in El Paso, because of these improper pruning techniques and practices.
Tens of thousands of trees in El Paso are dying off and are not being replaced. El Pasoans need to know that trees do not need to be pruned every year, but maybe only twice in their life time.
Another reason why the practice should be discouraged is because these trees look terrible. I have hundreds of pictures of butchered trees with little to no limbs left on them. Many of the trees have cracked open, as if to suggest that they have succumb to the constant abuse they are made to endure every year.
This travesty is not only relegated to the residential population. I personally have witnessed, stopped and informed employees with the Housing Authority, City, and school districts about not engaging in this destructive activity. I often show them the proper way to prune and seal trees and I am thanked for bringing the issue to their attention.
Many tell me that they simply did not know how to properly prune trees and learned by doing, “what everybody else does.”
The proper way to prune a tree is to start at the bottom and go up, cutting limbs all the way back to the trunk of the tree. Continue to do so until you have gone half way up the tree or more, depending on how tall you want your canopy to be.
Afterwards, make sure to seal the cuts by painting them with a combination of interior latex paint and Listerine, although any mouth wash will work. The mouth wash is the antiseptic for the cut and the latex paint will seal the cut and prevent the tree from bleeding out.
It is my hope that after reading this, El Pasoans will undertake the correct way of pruning their trees, so as to avoid continuing to damage or destroy their trees.
Author: Alan Serna – Executive Director, Make El Paso Green