Can I legally prune or cut back Torrey Pine Trees. I have three native Torrey Pines in my yard. They were growing here when my family bought property next door in 1946. My neighbors are complaining that their view is being blocked. I do not want to prune. Can I use the legality as an excuse for not trimming? These trees are very big, since they have been irrigated for the past 40 years while we have lived here. Thanks for you help with this.
Answer from Pat:
You don’t mention where you live. The best way to find out if there is a law against pruning any tree would be to ask the city government where you live. For example, there is a law in Del Mar California against cutting down Torrey pines (Pinus torreyana) but none against intelligently pruning them. However, one can cut down a tree when it is too close to a house or another building. A permit is required to cut them down.
No permit is required to prune Torrey pine trees, and in some cases it’s necessary to prune them for reasons of safety. Torrey pines are not damaged by sensible pruning and often helped by it. Where there is plentiful ground water they have even survived unwise pruning such as topping, which is never a good idea with any tree. A Torrey pine, or any tree for that matter, should not be pruned in such a way that it becomes unbalanced. It is best to prune them in the cool weather of late fall and winter months, not in summer.
Torrey pine trees often invade pipes. In the wild, they are attacked by beetles during droughts, but if growing in gardens or on irrigated hillsides they are usually healthy. They easily throw off beetle attack and can grow to enormous size. Basically, they are not a good tree for irrigated gardens since their roots invade pipes and they grow too large, sometimes with shallow roots making the trees dangerous. There are many cases of large Torrey pine trees crashing down to the ground because of shallow roots in irrigated soils. Sometimes they fall on houses and other structures. Unusually long and heavy limbs can also fall off or break and hit the ground, though still attached to the tree. For this reason it is wise to remove any branches that have stretched too far out from the trunk with a heavy load of foliage at the tip and none down the branch.
There have been some cases of Torrey pine trees in gardens suddenly crashing down to the ground in the middle of the day or night when there is not even any wind. However, trees growing in canyons where roots can grow deep to get water rarely fall and often grow to immense size, creating a phalanx of foliage that can indeed cut off views and drip quantities of sap and needles on the ground below. Wise pruning may in some cases benefit the tree and the safety of your property. (Please see the article on Care of Torrey Pine Trees elsewhere on this website.)
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