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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

Local and statewide information on a variety of current topics for home gardeners and market growers.
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Pruning Series Part 2: Deciduous Trees


Pruning of newly planted and established trees can be an easy practice for informed gardeners. Pruning of landscape trees is done to improve structure, aesthetic value of the tree and benefits overall plant health. As discussed, February and March are the most ideal part of the year to prune deciduous trees.

Tree pruning basics

-Never top trees. Topping of trees which is commonly done to remove tree growth from power lines is very detrimental to trees because they will produce weak growth.

-Remove branches that are dead, diseased, rubbing or broken.

-Leave temporarily lower branches on the tree until they reach 1" in diameter. This increases trunk and root growth

-When trees are young, the scaffold branches should be identified. Scaffold branches will make up the primary structure of the tree and should have wide angles ideally 90 degrees. Branch angles should look more like a U rather than a V. They are evenly spaced vertically and radially up the tree (15-35"). Branches with narrower angles have included bark and may not be strong enough to withstand snow load, wind or fruit load. This is why trees such as silver maple is not recommended for street trees.

-Identify the dominant leader of the tree and avoid competing leaders by removing back to the trunk. If removing this alternate leader takes a large portion of the tree then prune back to a node a little each year until the chosen leader is dominant.

-Remove water sprouts or suckers. Water sprouts are tree limbs that grow vertically and grow around old pruning wounds or where storm damage has occurred. Suckers are vertical branching that grows at the base of the tree.

-Do not limb up the tree but instead keep at least half of the foliage in the lower 2/3rds of the tree. This will make a stronger base.

-For limbs that are greater in size make a three cut approach to prevent stripping of the bark. The first cut will be placed at least 4-6" from the main trunk and go from the bottom of the limb up half way up. Then the entire limb should be removed by saw cut with the second cut.

-The third cut will be just above the branch collar (swollen base of limb) without leaving a stub. The branch collar is where the tree develops callus tissue in response to pruning cut preventing decay.

-Covering of wounds is unnecessary. In fact covering wounds can prevent proper healing and provide a moist environment for fungal growth.

Please look forward to upcoming articles on pruning flowering shrubs and hedges and evergreens.



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