Tree Pruning 101
“You can prune a tree or shrub at any time of year.” This popular misconception is frequently shared with homeowners new to managing their landscaping. However, the truth is that when you prune a tree is large dependent on WHY you are pruning the tree.
Why Should You Prune?
The first reason you would prune a tree or shrub is to remove any dead, diseased, or damaged branches. Pruning a diseased tree strengthens its health by preventing the spread of disease and encourages the tree to direct its energy towards growing its healthy branches.
How can you tell the difference between a dead tree and a diseased tree?
Signs Your Tree May Be Dead:
- Dead wood: Dead wood looks dry and lifeless. Unlike a healthy branch that can bend in response to wind, it is brittle and breaks easily.
- Decay: Trees usually decay from the inside out; exterior symptoms may be hard to see. Soft wood, wood that crumbles, or mold or fungi such as mushrooms, are all indicators of inner decay.
- Cracks: Cracks are deep splits through the bark.
- Cankers: Cankers are holes where the bark is missing and they increase the chance of a stem breaking near the canker.
- Low quality tree architecture: An uneven growth pattern is an indication of poor tree architecture. This means the tree may look lopsided or lean sideways.
Symptoms of a Diseased Tree
- Thinning canopy: Thinning of a tree’s canopy indicates a tree’s health is in decline. A thinning canopy will leave a tree off-balance and more susceptible to wind and winter storm damage. The stress on the tree will also make it more vulnerable to parasites and insect pests.
- Leaf problems: Discoloration, damage, or wilting of leaves is a clear indication a tree is under stress. Shedding of leaves prior to the fall can demonstrate an early dormancy so that the tree can stop directing all its energy to new growth and conserve its strength over the winter.
- Branch problems: branches that don’t have any leaves or bark on them are a symptom of a tree in distress; as are branches that have fallen off of a tree for no apparent reason.
- Soft or rotting roots: rotting roots are usually the result of overwatered soil or soil with poor drainage. Soggy conditions prevent a tree’s roots from absorbing the oxygen needed to live. As the oxygen-starved roots die and decay, their rot can spread to healthier roots even when the wet soil conditions have been corrected.
If a tree is already dead, it needs to be removed. Not only will it draw pests, spread disease to other trees in your yard, and be unattractive, but it could fall, resulting in costly emergency tree removal service. Sometimes, the chance to prune a tree has passed and it will be too diseased or badly damaged to save. It’s important to use a licensed tree service company with trained and expert staff. Thousands of accidents – some deadly – occur each year in the US when home owners attempt their own large tree pruning or removal. “Dangerous tree removals” or “tight-spot removals” involving power lines, businesses, homes, or other structures close by increase the importance of using an insured, experienced tree removal company.
A tree should be pruned to improve its appearance and function. Pruning not only manages its overall size, but encourages flowering, fruiting, and growth. Dead branches should be pruned in order to prevent them from falling off. Removing suckers and water sprouts that don’t contribute to a healthy canopy of foliage is also a good idea. Suckers are vegetative, unplanned growth coming from the root system of a tree and water sprouts are vegetative, vertical growth stemming from a tree's trunk or branches.
When to Prune
Now that we’ve discussed why to prune, let’s examine why pruning at certain times of year is best for your tree’s health.
Late Winter – Early Spring
Pruning in the late winter months of February to early April is considered the best time to prune for green growth in deciduous and evergreen trees alike. Pruning during this time period gives a tree time to heal the cuts before warm spring temperatures usher in the growth seen in the primary growing season. Pruning before the green growth of the late spring will encourage flowering trees to bloom in the summer and also allows you to see bark and wood problems that the foliage would have hidden.
Late Spring - Early Summer
Pruning to manage a tree’s shape and appearance is performed at the beginning of the summer months. The strong spring growth has occurred and you’re able to see how much leaf surface the tree has and where it needs to be reduced. Pruning to remove branches that are too weak to support the canopy’s weight can also be done at this time of year. For trees that flower in the spring, pruning in the early summer months is recommended. Pruning after the tree’s flowers have dropped allows it time to set new buds for the next season.
Take a pass on late summer to early fall pruning. Pruning in the later summer encourages new growth immediately prior to falling temperatures which are likely to kill it. Also, pruning of any kind stresses a tree and creates an open wound. These wounds can be more easily infected by fungi in the fall months. They also create an opportunity for bacteria or insects to invade the tree. Most insects and diseases are not active in cold, winter weather, so pruning prior to late summer and early fall allows a tree to heal from the cuts without the stress of fending off threats. Only branches that are a danger to a tree’s health or to safety should be pruned during the late summer or early fall months.
How to Prune a Tree
How Should You Prune a Tree?
Obviously, we strongly recommend retaining the services of an established and reputable tree service company. Parker Tree Service was established in 1937. The company employs certified and insured arborists and each undergoes continuous training. We make it a priority to regularly update and upgrade our equipment and we provide fast and dependable tree removal and maintenance service to thousands of residential and commercial customers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Some companies use old or substandard equipment and shortcut a job, risking a tree’s health and future by removing viable branches. Our staff knows that fine-pruning trees in your landscape is as much of an art as a science. It requires experience and knowledge to do the job correctly.
However, if you would like to attempt pruning your trees on your own, we can provide the following general tips. While working with sharp tools and dropping heavy objects from a height, it’s very important to take safety precautions.
- Be sure to wear proper safety gear, such as thick gloves, safety glasses, and a hard hat.
- Care for your tools meticulously. Your tools should be cleaned alcohol between one tree and another, after removal of any branch showing signs of disease, and at the end of a pruning.
- Never prune near power lines.
- Non-professionals should use pruning shears, hand saws, and pole saws for tree trimming.
- DO NOT climb a tree or a ladder to prune, or prune next to power lines. Any task involving these dangers should be left to professionals who are certified, licensed, and insured.
Heading cuts are cuts that remove the growth buds at the ends of branches (also known as terminal buds). Heading cuts are appropriate for limbs that are less than a year old. To make a heading cut, you will trim a branch back to about 1/4" in front of one of its lateral buds (the buds found all along the sides of the branch). These cuts are used to reduce the total length of each branch and determine the overall shape of the tree’s canopy.
Thinning cuts are applied to mature trees to address particular issues. Removing heavy branches or water sprouts typically involves thinning cuts, as do removing branches that rub against other branches. Another reason to use a thinning cut is to remove a branch that connects to other branches or the trunk at too great or too narrow an angle. A thinning cut is cutting a branch all the way back to the point where it attaches to a larger branch or the trunk of the tree.
It’s important to identify the type of branch collar the tree has and the branch bark ridge before pruning. The branch collar is the mass of tissue at the base of the branch where it attaches to the tree. The branch bark ridge is a raised section of bark at the point of attachment. You will want to make a thinning cut against the branch collar and the branch ridge while leaving the branch collar intact. This will promote healing in the cut.
For pruning branches that are larger than 3” in diameter, we recommend contacting a reputable tree service company for assistance.
Wise pruning of your lawn’s trees can preserve their health and beauty for many years. If you have concerns about maintaining your trees, call Parker Tree Service. We’re always happy to help answer questions regarding the maintenance or removal of your trees.