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Pruning Trees - Why, When and How to Prune
05 Feb 18

Pruning Trees - Why, When and How to Prune

For centuries, gardeners have used pruning techniques to help maintain healthy, good looking and productive plants. A good pruning will help to encourage new growth where you want it.

The WHY of pruning for trees, bushes and shrubs

Looking around our small patch of forest and land, I always see projects and more projects. Most are hour long, some are day long but most of our projects tend to be on-going and never ending. One of those involves pruning what we have growing.

What is pruning?

Merriam Webster defines it as: to trim (a tree, shrub, or bush) by cutting away dead or overgrown branches or stems, especially to increase fruitfulness and growth. There are many reasons to prune your plants.

Why prune?

For centuries, gardeners have used pruning techniques to help maintain healthy, good looking and productive plants. A good pruning will help to encourage new growth where you want it.

By removing branch stubs, crossed (or rubbing) branches, or branches that may be dead, injured (such as by disease, insect infestation, weather or animals) or dying, you can help the plant’s systems to return it to full health.

Landscapers prune not only for the health of the plant but to maintain shape, size and even fruit and flower development. In part, the art of bonsai is just good pruning!

As a homeowner, pruning can even be a matter of safety for house and property. Trimming away branches that overhang the home can prevent much damage during a high wind or winter storm. Pruning branches or plants that can potentially block lights, paths or entry ways can open up your field of vision around your home. Cutting away those few branches that always seem to reach out to snag you can make walking your property a lot more pleasant.

From rose bushes to fruit trees, from shrubs to large trees, every one of them could do with a good pruning at some point in the year. Look around, can you see where pruning may help?

Pruning, WHEN it should be done

Pruning can be an endless activity. Each season brings different plants into dormancy and dictates the best time for pruning. Every gardening zone is different, and some areas actually have laws regarding what time of year to prune certain trees and shrubs in order to protect the species from disease or upset from pests.

Removing dead limbs from trees, shrubs and flowers should be done as you notice them, just be aware of the season if you start pruning into living wood. By cutting the dead weight of branches away you open up the rest of the plant to greater airflow and sunlight penetration. Sometimes, when pruning I can almost hear the plant sigh in relief after removing a particularly nasty branch.

Generally, “limbing up” or pruning off the lower branches from large trees can be done at any point of the year, though we tend to do most of our limbing up at the end of the growing season and not in the spring when the sap is rising.

Before you decide to go pruning

Before you decide that "right now" is the time to take your folding saw to your azaleas, do some research on your plants. An ill-timed pruning session could lose you blooms for a year or more. Whether you keep an orchard, herb garden, hedges or landscaping trees, your plants could use some pruning attention throughout the year.

Below are some great links to help you figure out your timing. When you get to know your plants and your growing zone, you can create your own seasonal schedule!

A great pruning schedule overview:

The Best Time to Prune

The Essential Guide to Pruning Plants All Year Long

When to prune trees and shrubs

HOW to Prune Trees

Now that we have learned WHY we prune and the basic guidelines of WHEN we prune it is time to cut to the heart of the matter and get into HOW we prune. Depending on the plant, tree or shrub the techniques differ, in this article we will look at pruning trees.

As with almost any activity there are many right ways to do it accompanied by many wrong ways to prune. In this article we will discuss the merits of several techniques and touch a little bit on the obviously harmful ways to prune.

Prune Your TREES

There are several types of pruning when it comes to trees, the most common are:

Cleaning: this is the removal of dead branches and can be done at almost any time of the year on most species. (If you are looking at pruning an Oak tree, do some research first as there are laws in some areas regarding the time of year it’s okay to prune oaks and treatment required after cuts.)

Raising: this method is clearing away the lower branches of a tree to encourage the tree to send all of its energy up, this invigorates the crown of the tree and gives a lovely and classic tree silhouette.

Thinning: this is the removal not only of the dead but also of crossed branches, suckers (shoots going straight up) and weaker branches as well. By selectively pruning the less healthy branches away from the crown of the tree it allows greater airflow and sunlight penetration and generally helps a healthy tree remain so.

No matter what method of choosing what to cut that you use, there are a few basic ways to actually make the cut without additional harm done to the tree.

When pruning close to the trunk make your cut about an inch or two away from the base at the top of the collar, angled slightly down.

To prune away branches along limbs, figure out where along the branch to cut. Look all along the length of it, check to see if it is crossing or rubbing any other branches and find a growth node that is facing away from the main body of the tree and cut at a light angle above the node. The slight angle will prevent the node from drying out or rotting, and encourages the outward growth of a new branch.

When the time comes to whip out my folding saw to do some pruning, I like to ask myself some questions.

Do any of the branches cross or rub together?

Is there enough airflow and sunlight through the canopy?

Are there dead branches?

Are there any unsightly branches or branches that just look wrong?

Once I have the answers I know just where to prune and get to it, taking frequent breaks to stop and walk around the tree observing the changes. The breaks to observe are important as you can learn a lot about a tree during the process.

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