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Pruning deciduous trees

Dec 03, 2019

          Pruning deciduous trees can improve both the look and the health of the plant. When done properly, pruning improves airflow, prevents branches from interfering with one another, and highlights the form of the tree. While larger trees may require an arborist for adequate pruning, smaller and less mature trees can easily be pruned by the home gardener.

          To start, it is necessary to have the appropriate tools for pruning.  A pair of sharp, clean hand pruners are a great start and can be used for pruning smaller branches. For limbs larger than 1-inch in diameter, a handsaw may be necessary. A ladder, of course, can be helpful to reach higher limbs of a plant, and pole pruners can help to lop many out of reach branches as well.

          Timing should always be considered when pruning any plant. For ornamental, spring flowering trees be sure to prune immediately after the tree flowers to keep from removing the buds for next year’s flowers. Fall blooming ornamentals should be pruned in late winter or early spring. All other deciduous trees can be pruned any time, though winter is ideal because the tree’s form is more apparent when not obscured by its leaves.

          When pruning branches, be mindful of where your cuts are made. Pruning too close to the trunk can leave unattractive scars or make a tree more vulnerable to diseases or infections and leaving too much of a nub can distract from the grace of a tree’s form and prevent the trees wound from properly healing.

          When selecting branches to prune, start by removing any dead branches. Next, prune branches that cross with other branches. The intersections of crossing branches can cause issues later on as the two limbs mature. By eliminating one of the two branches, you allow the other space to grow without getting choked out. Similarly, prune any branch that is growing towards the center of the tree rather than outwards. These limbs can cause crossing branches later on and be unsightly to the form of the tree. Ideal limbs branch out from the trunk or other limbs creating v-shaped joints. Look for unusual branching habits identify any that may become issues later in the tree’s growth.

          Some trees, crapes in particular but others as well, will send up suckers at the base of the tree. These too should be removed as early as possible.

          Sometimes it may be necessary to thin healthy, attractive branches of a tree to improve air circulation and allow water and light to penetrate. This will benefit the health of the tree long term. Exercise caution when removing larger branches as a single removed limb can drastically change the form of a tree. Never remove more than one-fourth of the tree’s crown in a single season.  

         When unsure about pruning, it is always best to call an arborist. Trees that are especially large are practically impossible for the average home gardener to properly and adequately prune, but with careful consideration many smaller trees will benefit from periodic pruning without the need for an arborist.