Sad Tuba Pruning : Parking Lot Trees at “Happy Valley”

Have you been to a place north of Phoenix called “Happy Valley”?  Now, I’m unsure if that’s a  real place or if it’s actually something like the set of The Truman Show.  Thoughts on that?  Do you live in Happy Valley, and if so, what’s it like?  I noticed that they pump uplifting music into the many parking lots so you can really get geared up for some shopping.



What I did notice for sure was some maximum sad tuba pruning.  As detailed in the fabulous drawing below, they have trimmed and trimmed and trimmed their hundreds of parking lot trees until what’s left resembles a lolly pop with a pair of very long legs (I did not think to get a photo because I was so stunned by these creatures).  Most of the trees are lacking any sub-branches and the canopies have been reduced to less than one third of their potential width.  You might be wondering why anyone would do such a thing, right?  The reason is to maintain visual access to signs.  You wouldn’t want to miss out on quickly locating Panda Express with all those pesky branches and leaves in the way.  So, the final result is a parking lot with the feeling of trees but without the benefit of shade.  What a deal!



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Below I’ve given a quick reminder as to what desert trees look like.  For one, they aren’t all that tall.  If you think you can keep trimming up the canopy with the hopes that the tree keeps growing taller, it’s not going to happen.  The typical height of a cultivated (watered) mesquite tree is 20-30 feet, which holds true for all of the native desert trees I can think of. 60′ native trees just aren’t a thing in our hot and dry climate (unless you’re in a wash with running water, where you can certainly see cottonwoods and other broad-leafed trees).  Second, they like to have a bunch of trunks – not just one or two.  This allows more strength in the wind and the ability to spread wide.  And third, desert trees do best when allowed to spread as wide as they are tall – so 30′ wide by 30′ tall.  I know that’s not the tree shape most of us have in mind from childhood days of learning to draw them, but it’s the reality if we want healthy trees that actually provide some shade.

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My general rule for trimming desert trees is the old classic “less is more.”  Practicing restraint is key.  You can always come back to it in a year and do a bit more snipping and sawing, but once it’s damaged you’re really not going to get back that healthy, structurally sound growth.  Plus, a lot of trees look so much  more interesting if they’re allowed to craft their own look.

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  1. Thanks for posting. I’ve been scheming about a series of posts that show a photo of a poorly pruned landscape around town next to a photo rendering where I show what those plants are supposed to look like.

  2. I think the real key is convincing municipalities to encourage commercial buildings adjacent to roads rather than the conventional setback with a parking lot. That way, the store walls, and therefore the sign, is within clear view of the road and the parking lots can be treed up without worry of visual obstruction to ‘passerby’ advertising. Desert Ridge mall (PHX) and Tempe Marketplace mall do a good job of this. 29th St mall in Boulder is another good example.

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