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Just a Trim, Please

July 20, 2012

Put a pair of scissors in your hands, and whether you're cutting coupons or bangs, there's always the potential to oversnip. It's almost too easy to make a mistake as you clip, clip, clip away - removing a little more on this side and a bit more on that side.

Just like with a bad haircut, there is nothing more noticeable than a poorly pruned plant - pieces sticking out in all directions, a butchered shrub, a tree that looks like the top has been sliced off. The good news is that just as the perfect haircut can frame the face and improve a person's appearance, the same can be said for a professional tree pruning job.

Pruning is not only a science, but an art form. The science aspect of pruning involves understanding tree biology, recognizing plant flaws and skillfully eliminating or minimizing defects. The artistic aspect of pruning consists of removing dead wood while aesthetically shaping the tree.

Unfortunately, pruning books and guides can sometimes read like the foreign language versions of operations manuals. Understanding basic pruning principles can help everyone better recognize when their trees need help.

Why Prune?

As a maintenance practice, proper pruning ultimately improves tree health and appearance and prolongs its useful life. Pruning is typically performed for three main reasons: safety, health and aesthetics.

  1. Pruning for safety involves removing undesirable or weak branches that could pose a risk to people or structures or creating elevation or clearance.
  2. Pruning for tree health involves removing dead, weak, diseased or insect-infested branches; opening up the tree canopy to let air and light in for better disease prevention; or encouraging a strong structure that can better withstand storms.
  3. Pruning for aesthetics involves enhancing a tree's natural form or character or stimulating flower production.

Ultimately, pruning should always be conducive to the natural characteristics of each tree species. Justify every cut by defining its purpose and potential benefits.

Timing & Technique

shrub pruning - davey

While tree pruning can be done throughout the year, late fall and winter are the best times because the tree's branch structure is highly visible and there is less concern for spreading certain disease pathogens or insect infestations, explains Davey Expert and ISA Board Certified Master Arborist Steve Nagy. In the hot summer months, it's even more important to justify each and every cut - as a general rule, remove no more than 10 percent of the tree's branches at this time of year.

Davey professionals recommend the three cut pruning method. Make your first cut by cutting upward on the underside of the branch about one-third of the way through. Then, make your second cut by cutting downward from the top side of the branch close to the cut from underneath so the branch can fall cleanly without tearing or ripping. These first two steps can eliminate some of the weight of the branch to prepare for your final cut. Finally, make the third cut at the branch bark ridge and just outside of the branch collar to allow for optimum healing. View a short video of Nagy performing this technique here.

There are some very important rules to remember as you prune trees in your landscape. If there are any tree branches inrange of utility wires, contact your local power company so they can safely perform the work, Nagy stresses."

Also, if you can't reach branches from the ground or if limbs are larger or heavier than you think you can handle, it's best to call a licensed arborist," he says. Like a haircut, "pruning is not always as easy as it looks."

Have a question? Comment below. Or if you need help pruning your trees, we’re here to help!

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