If you have trees of any kind in your yard, it is worth your while to learn about pruning. Properly pruning a tree can increase its aesthetic value and boost its health.
However, indiscriminate pruning can harm or even kill a tree. Incorrect pruning techniques often result in lifelong damage to a tree, with no chance of recovery.
Pruning is a nuanced art form, and proper technique can vary from tree to tree. But lifelong gardeners swear by some of the following pillars of pruning.
Keep reading for some expert-level advice on tree care.
Why Prune Trees?
As we said earlier, you should never prune trees without a reason. Simply pruning because you think you are supposed to, is an ill-advised move.
That being said, here are some of the main reasons people prune trees:
- To remove dead or rotting branches
- To remove precarious branches out of the way of a house or sidewalk
- To increase the fruit-bearing potential
- To influence the shape of the tree
- To improve the health of the tree
- To thin the tree’s branches
- To improve the aesthetic appeal of a tree
Trees absorb nutrients through their roots and direct those nutrients to all of their branches. What you are doing when you prune is you are redirecting where those nutrients are going.
By strategically planning out which branches you want the tree to focus on, you influence its shape.
You also influence its fruit-bearing potential, if it is a fruit tree. This can increase the amount and quality of the fruit the tree bears.
Sometimes, trees experience damage at the hands of the weather, insects, or other forces. This can result in a healthy tree having a broken branch or infected area. When this happens, pruning is your friend.
Trimming off a broken or infected branch prevents the disease from spreading through the rest of the tree. In this instance, you can save a tree’s life by being quick with your pruning shears.
Additionally, you need to prune broken or rotting branches because they pose a safety risk. When heavy branches fall on houses or people, they can cause significant injury or damage.
Pruning away those branches can save you injury and even money.
Lastly, sometimes pruning is simply a practical matter. As trees grow, their branches may spread out over walkways, sidewalks, or out into the street.
When this happens, pruning shears will help you make it right.
When to Practice Pruning as Tree Care
You may think that it doesn’t matter what time of year you attempt to prune your trees. But actually, when you prune is important.
Most experts recommend that you prune your trees in the late winter. Most trees, even conifers, are dormant during this time, so they will be less affected by the cuts.
Furthermore, pruning trees after the coldest point of the year will help ensure that your trees are not hurt by the cold after you prune them.
Practically speaking, pruning during the winter also makes the most sense. Deciduous trees are leafless during this time of year, so it is easier to see what you are working with.
Some people who are pruning in order to thin their trees prefer to do it when the trees are full. This way, they can see the effect they are having on their trees.
If this is the case for you, avoid spring or early summer. Prune in the late summer when the trees are still full but not blooming.
But, make sure you are more than a month away from the first frost to prevent cold damage.
Regardless of the time of year, you should never prune newly transplanted trees.
You should leave young trees alone for the first year after you plant them. After they successfully survive the transplant, you can begin pruning.
These are the times of the year when you should generally prune your trees. But you also need to be prepared for emergency pruning.
Emergency Pruning to Save Your Tree
While there are definitely preferred times of year to prune your trees, there are times when you must act immediately.
As was mentioned before, sometimes your tree becomes affected by outside factors. These include storms, pests, or diseases.
When you notice this happen, there is no time to lose. You cannot wait until the preferred season if you want to prevent additional damage to your tree.
Diseases and pests will spread throughout the limbs and kill your tree if not stopped.
As soon as you notice something like this, cut the affected limb back to a healthy branch. For diseases and pests, dip your shears or saw into a bleach solution in order to prevent spread.
For branches that have broken during a storm, cut brack the limb to a healthy branch. An unclean break caused by a storm gives pests and bugs an opportunity to infiltrate your tree.
Give your branch a clean cut in order to avoid this catastrophe.
How to Prune Your Tree
So now you know why you might prune a tree, and when you should do it. But now you need to know-how.
For smaller or younger trees, you will be able to prune your tree’s branches with a sharp pair of hand shears or lopping shears. However, bigger branches are a little more difficult.
The intuition of many novices is that they should attempt chopping off their desired branch with a hand saw or a chainsaw in one movement.
However, making a series of cuts instead of one can prevent damage to your tree.
You see, if you make one cut, the branch will fall and peel some of the tree’s bark at the same time. To avoid this, use this tried and true method:
First, a few inches from the base of your branch, make a small cut on the underside of the branch.
Next, a few inches beyond that, make your cut all the way through. The branch will fall and not take any bark with it.
Finally, use your saw to remove the rest of the stub. It will no longer be so heavy that it will remove bark when it comes off.
Make sure to make your final cut at a forty-five-degree angle, with the wide side of the angle pointing downward. This helps your tree avoid water damage and heal faster.
Situations That Call for Pruning
As we mentioned earlier, there are a lot of reasons for pruning. But you may not be familiar with some of the indicators of the need to prune.
For example, if you want to prune in order to strengthen your tree, you need to know what it looks like when your tree is weak.
To help you out, we have listed some of the top indicators that your tree’s branches need pruning.
“Suckers” are one of the main things you need to watch out for. Sometimes, trees will produce some small branches that grow straight out of the ground.
While they may seem small at first, they can ultimately weaken the strength of the tree.
Cut them at the base before they grow too tall.
You should also look out for branches growing in a cluster. Sometimes, a branch will shoot off five or six smaller branches from one entry point.
This means that none of them will end up being very strong.
Cut the excess branches at the divergence point. This will allow the one or two remaining branches more sunlight and nutrients.
Your tree is also asking for pruning if it grows divergent trunks. A forked trunk means that two smaller trees will grow instead of one.
To strengthen your tree, remove one side of the trunk at a young age.
This will allow the remaining trunk to grow up big and strong.
How to Read Your Tree’s Growth Buds
Your tree gives off signals about how it plans to grow and in what direction. These signals are known as growth buds.
By learning how to read your tree’s growth buds, you can make educated pruning decisions.
There are three types of growth buds. They are terminal, lateral, and latent.
Terminal buds are ones that are growing on the end of the branch. The presence of that bud means that your tree plans to keep growing in that direction.
The terminal bud also inhibits the growth of lateral buds.
Lateral buds are ones that grow on the sides of the branch, shooting out in a lateral direction. These buds promote horizontal growth, making your tree appear bushier.
However, these buds tend not to grow much until the terminal bud is removed.
Therefore, you can decide with pruning how you want your tree to grow. It can keep growing in the direction of the terminal bud, or you can direct it to start becoming bushier.
The last type of growth bud is called a latent bud. Latent buds are waiting in the wings. They are your tree’s backup plan in case the branch gets damaged.
They wait until they are needed before they grow. But, you can see them beneath the tree’s surface.
That means that by pruning around the latent bud, you can encourage it to grow. This is especially helpful if you have a branch that has been damaged by the weather.
Situations in Which You Should Never Prune
This whole article has been spent telling you when and why you should prune your trees.
But there are a plethora of reasons why you should not prune your trees, too. Here is a list of some of these reasons:
- You don’t know what you are doing
- It’s the wrong time of year
- You have the wrong equipment
- The branches are in a dangerous or precarious position
- You don’t have a reason for pruning
As we said before if you don’t have a reason for pruning or you do not know how do not attempt to prune your trees.
What you have read in this article are tree pruning basics. You should look for specific information regarding the type of tree you own for more exact pruning tips.
If you have the wrong equipment, do not attempt to prune your tree. This can result in tree damage.
Lastly, there is no reason to put yourself in a dangerous position in order to prune your tree.
Climbing ladders with chainsaws or trying to lean out on a branch is not advisable. In these situations, you should call a professional arborist.
A professional arborist, like those at GraftinGardeners, will know what is best for your tree. They will be able to make the cuts to achieve the desired result.
For precarious branches, many skilled arborists know how to fall a branch away from your house or property.
Plus, they are trained in how to use pruning equipment, so there is less of a safety risk. When in doubt, hiring a professional arborist to help with tree maintenance is a good investment.
Pruning Trees for a Long Lifetime
The fact of the matter is that skillfully pruning your trees can help them live long and healthy lives.
Pruning is how you protect them from pests and disease, and relieve undue stress on some of their limbs.
Additionally, pruning is an aesthetic skill and art form. By learning how to prune trees, you can turn your garden into the oasis that you are envisioning.
Pruning is a nuanced form of tree care, but it is a very valuable skill for gardeners. For more information on caring for trees and other plants, check out our Gardening Section.