With over 2 million trees in Singapore, there are massive variances in maintenance standards between trees.
A commonly seen example of bad pruning is “topping”. This practice chops large branches back to a pre-determined limit, into stubs without sufficiently large leaf-bearing branches (also known as a “terminal leader”) nearby. Some trees decline and eventually die because of periodic topping.
Topping is a temporary solution at the expense of overall tree health. Other more sustainable solutions, like thinning and size reduction, could have been implemented with the same resources.
Here is a Syzygium grande that has been repeatedly topped for “safety purposes”. This species has been criticized for its weak branches, but one cannot help but question if bad pruning practices have led to its poor reputation.
Notice how branches end abruptly. The tree’s natural shape is destroyed, while the topped branches try to put out new leaves to replace lost foliage, giving the tree spots of bushy growth.
Leaves are the photosynthetic factories of a tree; no leaves = no food to support living cells.
Tree longevity should always be kept in mind when pruning. Done by a skilled operator, pruning can improve the overall structure, stability, and health of the tree. Done poorly, higher maintenance costs and hazards from unstable sprout production are likely.
This Alstonia angustiloba below displays good previous pruning.
It has grown short, fat, and dense. Unlike a topped tree, constant maintenance isn’t necessary, its natural shape is retained, and is unlikely to be a public risk.
Plenty of Singaporean trees are topped as a management strategy. With the exception of a few extraordinary circumstances, topping does more harm than good.
We need to understand that while topping might be the easiest solution, it isn’t a sustainable one.
Maintenance frequency for a topped tree (to remove new weakly attached shoots) can run up to once every 3 months. In contrast, a well-managed tree can go for 3 or more years without attention.
For trees in private estates, hiring competent people for tree management is key. Whereas for public trees, signs of poor tree management can be reported to the relevant authorities via https://www.oneservice.sg/.
Glance out the window in Singapore and it’s likely something will be waving back at you. It might be smooth or scaly, bigger than a bus or small enough to push over.
We live in a literal urban jungle, with trees peeping from around buildings, lining the sidewalk, or dominating plazas and courtyards.
“There is little in the architecture of a city that is more beautifully designed than a tree.” – Jaime Lerner
How do Singaporeans co-exist with our big mature trees?
Part of the answer is that our estate managers and urban planners work hard every day with architects, landscapers and arborists; trying to balance developmental needs with liveability and public safety.
Trees are an arborist’s speciality. We combine scientific knowledge with skill and experience to diagnose potential problems, and prescribe treatments for holistic management of trees.
Based on experience, frequently overlooked parts of tree care include:
Contract Specification Planning:
Long-term preservation of trees begins before contracts are signed: draft clear directions on proper tree care. Consult an arborist on potential tree-related loopholes in contracts.
Engage your arborist to prune young trees and develop strong form. Young trees pruned into biologically efficient forms minimize the potential for future structural problems and liability for tree owners.
Optimal pruning techniques? Tree work safety? Work teams often get a productivity boost through specialist training.
Long, useful, and safe life expectancies for urban trees require proper planning and sustained effort. Other areas where an arborist can help include biology-first design, stock selection, installation and establishment methods, mature tree tune-ups, and risk management.
Running into an unfamiliar species is always an interesting experience, identification can be challenging, with plenty of trial and error. Even with the power of the internet behind you, information can be limited and frustration is common.
However, when you finally get that “Eureka!” moment and find a match, what follows is a rush of adrenaline and an excited flurry of research. In the meantime, having a distinctive species smugly sit in front of you while being unable to identify it is hair-tearing.
Never has this experience been more pronounced when I was faced by this species at Bukit Brown Cemetery.
I felt stupid for the longest time when I could not figure out the name of such a distinctive plant with its absurdly large tri-lobed leaves. The specimen shown above is a small one. Mature individuals in the cemetery reach about 15m high.
Big leaves. Colleague for scale.
It was only when I ran into its cousin the Common Mahang (Macaranga bancana) that something clicked. This is the Giant Mahang (Macaranga gigantea). While the leaves are similar in shape to the Common Mahang, they are much larger, and its twigs do not contain mutualistic ants like its Common cousin.
Its role as a pioneer species fit the Bukit Brown Cemetery perfectly. Closed to new burials in 1973, secondary rainforest has been slowly reclaiming much of the area. Large tracts of open disturbed land? Perfect for the Giant Mahang.
Given enough time, these trees are eventually overtaken by larger, shade-tolerant competitors. However, the copious amounts of small fruit that it produces while it is alive ensures dispersal by animals to other open areas.