Tree Pruning Techniques

Why should I prune?

Pruning correctly creates healthier, more beautiful trees. This can help increase productivity and the life span of fruit and shade trees (fig. 1). Poorly or unpruned trees can pose safety risks that could endanger property and people.

Pruning is both science and art. Bonsai, bonsai, and topiary, are two examples of “plant art” that requires special pruning techniques. These unusual forms of plants can still be pruned according to the same principles. This publication will help you to start pruning correctly. You can create an artistic style for pruning that is based on your individual preferences and experience.

Orchard pruning is distinct from landscape tree trimming. Pruning in an orchard serves two purposes: to maximize the economic return and encourage early fruit production. Tree pruning in landscape is intended to maintain the trees’ natural form, health, longevity, and minimize potential dangers from poor pruning or unrestricted growth. Sometimes it is necessary to trim a tree in order to reduce its size, but this can often be a sign that the wrong tree has been selected for the particular landscape. This publication contains the correct pruning information for landscape trees. It will help you to reduce tree size and avoid hazardous branches, poor branch attachment and other problems that could cause injury or property damage.

When should I prune?

Deciduous trees can be pruned in the dormant seasons after their leaves have fallen in October and November. However, it is best to do so between January and March. Before color becomes apparent in flower buds and swelling leaves, prune deciduous trees in the spring. The majority of trees’ nutrients and carbohydrates are stored in their roots and wood. Therefore, limbs that have been removed will not affect growth or overall health. The food reserves found in leaves once they have formed are less susceptible to damage by pruning. Also, the amount of sap that is flowing from wounds during the winter reduces the likelihood of infection and diseases.

Evergreen trees should not be pruned until the new growth season begins. To collect greens for the holidays you can light prune, but don’t over-prune.

Spring-flowering trees with preformed flower buds can be pruned in summer. This prevents flowers from being lost while still in their buds. For other trees, summer pruning is acceptable. However, you should limit summer pruning only to deadwood removal and the creation of new branches that are not more than your thumb.

Pruning young trees can be more beneficial than corrective pruning of larger trees. Pruning a young tree will remove smaller branches and reduce food reserves. It also creates smaller wounds which close faster.

Do I really need a professional?

Sometimes, you may need to hire a professional tree care service. Most pruning of young trees can be done safely by homeowners. However, pruning heavy or large branches of mature trees can pose a danger to your health. A professional should be contacted if there are power lines, heights, valuable property, or other hazards below or around the tree. Power lines can cause injury to trees, their branches, equipment or people if they are near the tree. Be sure to follow the proper pruning procedures.

Hire professional arborists only if they are licensed, insured, and bonded. Some arborists can also be certified through a professional association like the International Society of Arborists. ISA certified arborists have successfully passed exams that test their knowledge about proper tree care and regularly attend updates training. They will protect you from personal injury and property loss, as well as ensure that your trees won’t be damaged by poor pruning. Ask questions of the arborist and ask for references from past local pruning jobs. New Mexico has an abundance of arborists that are certified by ISA. Your telephone directory may contain contact information.

What tools are I looking for?

Where can I cut?

Good pruning begins with the right cut. The rule of thumb is to always trim a branch or twig that points in the direction you wish the tree to grow. This will encourage healthy and controlled growth. Do not cut branches if you aren’t sure if it is safe to do so. It is possible to cut it again, but you cannot put it back.

The “collar”, which is between the trunk and each branch, is located at the location where each branch comes from the trunk. The trunk and branch vascular tissues are contained in the branch collar. By cutting into the trunk tissue you can disrupt the tree’s natural defense mechanisms. This will allow pests and disease to enter the tree trunk. Your pruning should be done outside of the collar on the branch’s side.

Small branches can be cut

The majority of pruning shears are equipped with one blade. The blunt jaw of your shears should press on the end of the limb to be removed. An incorrect orientation could cause damage to the tissue in the branch collar and slow down wound healing.

Cutting large limbs

Three cuts are necessary to remove large limbs. (fig. 5) to avoid removing bark from trunk. The first cut (1) should be made to the underside of limb, approximately 6 inches beyond bark collar. Cut 1/4 to 1/3 up through limb. Cut the second (1) from the top down several inches further than the original cut. Keep cutting until the branch separates (2a). Once the branch is removed from its weight, you can make the third cut (3).

What Should I Do to a Wound?

No. Trees have their very own ways of closing an injury. Trees will sustain millions of injuries during their lifetime. Some are as minor as an insect bite while others can be as serious as a split tree trunk. Trees protect wounds from invading insects by “walling off” (compartmentalizing). U.S. Forest Service research has shown that pruning sealants can cause injury to trees by slowing the closure of wounds. Use proper pruning techniques to speed healing. To prevent the spread of disease, clean your pruning knives with alcohol periodically.

How can I train a young tree to be a good citizen?

It is possible to train a young tree to become a mature, well-structured tree. Pruning young trees is a good way to help them establish their structure, and it can also prevent future problems. It is much easier and faster to use pruning during a tree’s growth than to correctively trim mature trees. Here’s how to do it:

Choose strong branches to support the tree’s structure. A tree that is properly spaced will grow stronger and more efficiently. Vertical spacing refers to the distance between branches. Radial space refers the arrangement of branches around a tree trunk. The attachment angle is also important when selecting branches. Attachments angles greater than 30deg are more likely to grow strong and can be anchored into the trunk.

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