Making The Cut – Pruning Trees

Red Maple Bark

Pruning the trees in your yard does not have to be a difficult process. However bad pruning is done regularly by some professionals and many unknowing homeowners. Following a these few simple steps will keep your trees healthy and growing strong for a very long time.

Timing – For deciduous trees like the maple in the picture above (ones that drop their leaves), it is usually best to prune them during the dormant season, – late fall to early spring. If you have a flowering tree, timing is also important. Dogwood trees for example bloom in the spring and should be pruned right after they are done blooming (late spring). These trees form their flowers on “old wood” or on the growth of the previous season. So pruning them too late in the year, like in July, will remove the flower buds for next year. Other examples of plants that should not be pruned after July are Crab apples, Fringe tree, Flowering cherry and Hawthorn. Trees that bloom in the summer, like Crape Myrtle should be pruned in the early spring, because they will form their buds on the new spring growth .

Tools – Sharp clean tools are very important. A great tool for branches up t0 2 inches thick, is the folding hand saw. The blades are specially designed to cut fast and because of their design, they do not clog. They weigh only 5 ounces, which is much easier and safer to handle than a chain saw.
Smaller braches, 1/2″ – 3/4″ can be easily prunned with sharp hand prunners.

Technique – Do not be in a hurry. Start off by looking at the entire branch and try to imagine what the tree will look like once you have cut it off. Remember once you cut the branch, you can not reattach it.

Removing a branch is a 3 step process.

When removing a branch with a saw, first cut about 1″ into the branch on the underside about a foot from the area where the final cut will be made. The 2nd cut should be made a few inches above the first. This cut should remove the branch. Finally, cut the remaining stub off cleanly about 1/2″ near the main trunk at the branch collar.
Pruning in this fashion will prevent the bark from tearing due to the weight of the branch, and will result in the smallest possible pruning wound.

It is best to limit you pruning to removal of a few branches. Remove no more than 1/3 of the branches. More branches gone means more leaves gone and leaves are what produces the food for the tree to grow – Photosynthesis. Also trees should never be topped. Topping is the radical removal of branches at the top of the tree, sometimes done to reduce the size of an overgrown tree. Topping is not healthy for the tree. Excessive removal of branches will result in excessive growth near the cut part of the branch. This new growth is weak, resulting in new branches that can easily break, or need pruned again next year.

Cut the branch at the collar.

Do not cut the branch too close to the trunk. And do not cut the branch and leave a long stump. So where is the right place to cut off a branch and does it really matter? If you cut the branch about 1/2″ -3/4″ from the trunk, just on the other side of a small collar of bark, the tree will heal the cut all by itself. However if you leave a long stump, the stump will decay and it will take a longer time to heal, or worse, it will rot and insects will invade the cut. Similarly if you cut too close to the trunk, the branch will not heal properly. The tree probably won’t die, but it will effect the overall health of the tree.

In the past we were taught , all cuts should be covered with a black pruning seal. More recent studies have revealed that this practice is no longer necessary. It was thought that sealing the cut would help the branch heal better, however if you cut the branch properly the branch will heal naturally.

Branch Collar

Trees are important to a healthy environment, and also create a beautiful landscape. Take a few moments to find out how to prune them properly and they will last a very long time.

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