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Why the Y: The story behind weird tree trimming

Originally Published in the 2015 December – 2016 January issue of the Corcoran News

By Frances Copenhaver
Corcoran News Youth Reporter

If you happen to have a power line on your block, there is a good chance that you also have trees that have been pruned to look like the letter “Y.” This is quite an odd way for a tree to look – and grow. I know of a few places near my house where the trees look like this. If the tree is older, it is less obvious in the spring and summer. This time of year, however, it’s pretty hard to miss.

Last month I wrote to Xcel Energy to find out why trees are pruned in such an odd manner and if there are any, more appealing options. Colleen Mahoney from Xcel’s National Media Relations department explained that their “priorities are public safety and keeping the lights on.” She acknowledged that “customers love their trees,” so Xcel “developed a program that is environmentally sensitive, cost effective and socially responsible” when it comes to trimming trees near power lines. (

The cables on a Distribution Power line (the ones that commonly run next to a road or through an alley) are not insulated. Which is why it is so dangerous for anyone to work or play next to them. Also, if a tree branch touches the line it could cause the electricity to “jump” which may start a fire. This is why Xcel prunes trees to “encourage” them to grow away from the power line. This makes sense, but it is unfortunate that this solution disfigures our pretty trees.

One of the alternatives to tree trimming is to bury the power lines, but this option is often too expensive in an urban neighborhood. Ms. Mahoney mentioned that the city of Minneapolis had some construction work (not related to trees) along 32nd Street so Xcel relocated and buried some of the overhead lines. Further west of that area there are some communication cables (cable TV, phone lines) that appear to have been reinforced with a tension cable system that may have allowed a few trees to keep their natural shape.

Of course, the best solution is to avoid planting the variety of trees that will eventually grow into the power lines. Xcel recommends, “No trees should be planted within 10 feet of a power line. Larger trees must be planted further away.” Trees with a mature height of 20 feet or less are the best choices. Some of the trees Minneapolis encourages residents to plant are: River Birch, Kentucky coffeetree, Matador maple, Princeton/American Elm & Northern hackberry. A Norway pine tree would not be a good option since it can reach a height of 141 feet and lives for about 500 years. Planting the right kind of tree in the first place can help put an end to weird tree trimming. Because, some trees make the cut while other trees have to be cut

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