The Unkind Cut
By Tony Avent
Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.
9241 Sauls Road
Raleigh, NC 27603
We turn our heads in horror when terrorists behead their captives and we decry depictions of punishment we feel doesn't live up to our ethical obligations toward those we don't like. Remember Saddam Hussein? The 'Butcher of Baghdad' as he was known, was sent to meet his 72 virgins as penance for his butchering predilection. So, why is it that intentional butchering and beheading of trees, especially crape myrtles has become the accepted norm? It would be bad enough if this happened once to a tree, but this bizarre ritual has become an annual first rite of spring for a growing number of horticultural sadomasochists.
So, what is the point of butchering our crape myrtles and what drives seemingly logical people to this unspeakable act? Have people been cooped up too long during the winter or perhaps gone off their meds to the point they have this insane need to butcher something alive? It could be an offshoot (pardon the pun) of the old sales technique used by unscrupulous tree pruning firms to convince homeowners their trees would fall in a storm and crush their homes unless they were regularly topped. Hopefully most folks now know this butchering actually makes the tree weaker and more susceptible to disease. Someone needs to tell these folks an uprooted crape myrtle couldn't even take out a decent size doghouse.
Then there is the myth about crape myrtles flowering better if you behead them. It doesn't work well for people and it doesn't work any better for crape myrtles. Imagine those ancient unpruned specimens that seem to bloom just fine or better yet, those crape myrtles in the wild, surely longing for a pruning job so they can flower and reproduce. I always like the line about getting rid of the unsightly seed pods. Okay fine ... turn about's fair play. How would you feel if someone cut off your reproductive organs for appearance sake? Maybe if your crape myrtle's been sneaking around at night with a maple, fine ... but if not, what's your excuse?
I've studied the varying magnitude of cuts from simply removing the old seed heads to trunk cuts into wood with a 4" diameter. Everyone has a different excuse for this ritual, all of which have the same logic of taxing the nation into prosperity. The depth of the cut seems directly proportioned to the testosterone level of the mutilator and horsepower of their power equipment.
I'm guessing some folks just loathe natural beauty. You know the type ... their lipstick glows in the dark, their neon fingernails are longer than McDonald.s french fries, the number of body piercings would make my grandma's herd of hogs blush, and they're adorned with more tattoos than a NASCAR car has sponsors. These must be the folks that just can't leave natural beauty alone. Our local governments have banned most other things of any use or entertainment value, surely pruning implements can't be too hard to license.
I'm proposing criminal legislation on intentional butchering of trees, in particular crape myrtles, be considered a capital offense with the following sentencing guidelines:
First Degree Crape Murder
Texas Chainsaw Cut (premeditated felony) - cuts on trunks greater than 4" diameter
*Sentence: Life sentence chained to an unpruned crape myrtle, watching constant reruns of the Anna Nicole Show.
Al-Qaeda Beheading Cut (premeditated felony) - cuts on trunks between 2" and 4" diameter
*Sentence: 20 years of watching Nancy Grace on CNN, with all trips to the restroom to be accompanied by Senator Larry Craig. All pruning privileges are permanently revoked.
Second Degree Crape Murder
Limbada, the Forbidden Cut (premeditated felony) - cuts on trunks between 1" and 2" diameter
*Sentence: 10 years of listening to Dick Vitale announcing basketball games ... with the sound turned up. All pruning privileges are permanently revoked.
Third Degree Crape Murder
Lorena Bobbitt Cut (premeditated felony) - cuts on limb tips between .25" and 1" diameter (If cuts are made on male trees only, sentence is doubled according to the hate crimes statutes).
*Sentence: Surrender of all pruning implements for 24 months, a 12-step anger management course, and a 5-page essay on the book, 'Trees are People Too.'
Involuntary Tree Slaughter
Spastic Surgery (not premeditated misdemeanor) - topping limbs less than .25" in diameter This charged is reserved for neighbors who decide on a spur of the moment to copy their neighbors in order to not be viewed as outcasts.
*Sentence: Surrender of Felco Pruners for 6 months, suspension of all pruning privileges for 1 year, and completion of Pruning 101.
If you're ready to become rehabilitated, first ... put away the pruners. The willowy new growth that emerges will still flower and thank goodness, the leaves and flowers mask much of the mutilation once spring begins. The worst problem the first summer is that the weak branch angles combined with the size of the flower heads will make the new growth much more likely to break in a strong wind. Once the leaves drop in the fall, you must stare again at the scars and damage from the previous years cuts. It's going to take 2 to 3 years for the new growth to lengthen enough to replace the beheaded tops.
In a time of energy conservation, it's bad enough homeowners spend unnecessary energy and time to disfigure an otherwise attractive plant, but the idea that businesses actually pay money to outside contractors to make their plants look this bad is so bizarrely stupid, it defies logical explanation. Let's see, the contractor is paid to pick out good looking plants for the job site, plant them, maintain them, warranty them, then return and make them look as bad as is humanly possible. As the Bill Engvall song mused, 'Here's Your Sign ... I'm Stupid!'