Proper Pruning Techniques
A tree is a great thing of beauty that lives for years, decades and in some cases for centuries. It hurts my soul to see one trimmed improperly. It’s hard to believe, but improperly trimming a tree can actually shorten its lifespan, or kill it outright. I’m no arborist, but I am an experienced tree trimmer. So, as summer gives way to autumn I want to encourage you to take the time to trim your trees properly. It will save you time and money in the long run.
Tree trimming is as much an art as it is a science. Stand away from the tree and look at its overall form. Different species of trees grow in different shapes with different structures. The best time to prune is when a tree is dormant, but it isn’t the only time you can prune. Trees damaged by strong winds need to be cleaned up and pruned as soon as possible to prevent further damage and stress to the tree.
When trimming trees, the thing to remember is restraint is good. Start by cutting off less than you think you need. Use a sharp saw with a clean blade. When removing limbs from any tree, always cut the limb off at the trunk or joint where it is attached. Never leave a stub sticking out from the tree at the cut. This will create problems that will look unsightly, invite decay and attract unwanted insects that can damage the tree.
Review safety procedures and wear appropriate clothing. Check your surrounding for any exposed electrical cords and nearby power lines. When you begin pruning look for damaged or diseased limbs first and remove them. Next, look for limbs that are rubbing against each other and remove the smaller or most damaged of the two. Once this is done stand back and reevaluate the tree.
Some trees like Live Oaks tend to grow thick with small branches that prevent sunlight from reaching the ground. These small limbs that are less than an inch in diameter can be removed just about anytime. This allows the lateral limbs to spread out and grow stronger. On young trees that are still growing, you will need to remove lower limbs as the tree grows until you can walk comfortably under the canopy of the tree. As the tree ages, new branches will continue to grow from older branches and sag toward the ground which will need to be removed to allow clearance under the tree. Other evergreens like pines and magnolias can be pruned as needed throughout the year.
Deciduous trees, that lose their leaves in the fall, usually need less pruning. Unless damaged by a storm or accident, pruning should be done when dormant. Again, look for branches that are dead, damaged or diseased and remove them first. Some trees have sprouts, or suckers, that come up at the base of the tree or along the drip line. These can be removed at any time.
One last word of caution, never, ever top a tree! With that said, there are exceptions to this and every other rule. When the top is broken out of a tree you can still save the tree, but it will never grow like it should and will always be scarred. Fruit trees are often topped to make it easier to harvest the fruit, but here again, it doesn’t benefit the tree to top it. It just makes it more convenient for harvesting the fruit.