Many Trees in Town ‘Broom’ for Spring

Many Trees in Town ‘Broom’ for Spring

It’s spring, and the trees are brooming everywhere! (And, no, I didn’t misspell that word.) Many of Alameda’s street trees no longer have their wide canopies because they’ve been pruned to look like a broom — one long tree trunk with some branches left fanning out at the top.

The city’s current arborists, West Coast Arborists (WCA), don’t cut the trees below the power lines into ugly Y shapes like the previous contractors did, but cutting off the trees’ arms is not desirable either.

The street maintenance guidelines state that trees “are to be pruned … for clearance of obstructing branches or foliage for pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles. The intent of the trimming program is to prune trees for safety and health rather than cosmetic appearance.” It is hard to see in some cases what “obstruction” has necessitated the deformation of the trees, compromising their health, appearance and even safety in some cases.

If you, too, are disturbed by the mutilation, don’t bother making a lone call to city hall. You’ll get a canned response saying the trees are diseased and need the saw. Instead, take an interest in the tree outside your home or one that’s in your neighborhood.

When you see the warning sign that tree trimmers are coming, you just might want to sweep into action. I’d make sure to watch over the contractors’ work, ask them what branches they plan on cutting off and why, and try to stop them if it looks like they are about to inflict irreversible damage. I’d definitely trust my sense of what is right because what I see out there being done definitely isn’t right. I’d have Public Works’ and the city manager’s phone numbers handy on my phone that day.

When I see beautiful canopy trees in certain neighborhoods, I think, “these neighbors are organized.” When I see the opposite, I wonder if the residents just don’t care or hadn’t realized what was about to happen to their rooted friends.

Over time I have gotten more used to the over-cutting that took place on my street and don’t wince so much when I see “my” trees. They didn’t get broomed as much as mushroomed, with the trees having rounded tops.

Good pruning takes skill. A good trimming of your street tree should preserve and enhance the tree so it can continue to give the benefits it was planted for. It is an extension of your home and only you can preserve the ambiance it gives to your property. Plant your own tree — you will have a vested interest in keeping it healthy and beautiful. And even if it is a city-planted tree, it needs your attention and protection.

This spring, make a resolution to pay attention to the trees all over Alameda. Enjoy the blooms but take action against the brooms.

Read more of Irene Dieter’s writings at