The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Accent photo

Time to evaluate tree pruning

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Rolls can be good and bad. Sprinkled with cinnamon - good. Sprinkled with kitty litter – bad. Rolls are fun in a kayak. Not so fun in a car. Rolls over your waist band - bad. Rolls over a tree branch wound – good.

This is the time of year when a gardener's idle contemplations meander toward pruning. Trees stand naked to reveal their virtues and vices. It is the perfect time to evaluate what needs pruned and to appraise the quality of past pruning cuts.

First a bit about how trees respond to wounds produced through pruning. Plants do not heal the way we do. They cannot replace tissue, but rather compartmentalize the damaged tissue. In other words they wall it off. This is obvious when you look at old pruning cuts. The outside edges should show signs of rolling inward.

The quality of pruning cuts also shows up. Proper cuts are made just to the outside of the branch bark ridge and branch collar. What are those? If you hold your hand up with your thumb out at about a 45 degree angle, the branch bark ridge would be comparable to the wrinkled line of flesh where your thumb attaches, next to your forefinger. The branch collar resembles the second knuckle of your thumb.

Research has shown the best regrowth of the wounded area occurs when the branch bark ridge and branch collar remain on the trunk. Look at pruning cuts you have made in the past. It should look like a donut as the tree evenly rolls new tissue around the cut surface. If it looks like parenthesis or two Polish sausages than likely the branch collar and branch bark ridge were removed. Regrowth is stunted on the top and bottom of the wound.

Proper pruning means knowing when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. Here are additional aspects to proper tree pruning.

With newly planted trees limit pruning to removal of dead and broken branches and the correction of competing central leaders. Pick one branch as a dominant then reduce the length or remove competing leader. This may take a few years of corrective pruning to solve so as not to remove more than one third of the tree at one time.

On young trees leave lower branches on the tree for the first few years after transplanting. Research has shown that the presence of low branches helps the tree to develop a stronger and larger trunk. Leave the temporary lower branches on the tree as long as possible. Try to keep them at least until they reach one half to one inch in diameter.

Do not leave branch stubs. Remove completely or to an outward facing bud or branch.

Wound paint or dressings are not recommended.

Topping trees is unhealthy and also just downright ugly.

Leave the climbing to the professional arborists. None of us climb as well as we used to and we don't bounce as well either.

Concentrate efforts on removing crossing, rubbing, broken, diseased, and narrow-angled branches. Strong branches are attached at angles more than 45 degrees to the trunk.

Do not over-thin the canopy. Branches should not resemble lion's tails.

Remove water sprouts and suckers from tree base.

Proper pruning is a vital part of tree health. Pruning is an ongoing process throughout a tree's life involving yearly evaluation and planning. It requires decisions on what to prune, when to prune, and whether to prune at all.

Vermilion County Master Gardener Garden Day Saturday, March 14, 2015 from 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. at CrossRoads Christian Church 3613 N. Vermilion, Danville, IL.

Learn about new plants, get your garden questions answered and enjoy great food and plenty of shopping. Register today. Or call our UI Extension office in Danville at 217-442-8615.

View Article Archive >>