Very early cultures realized that trees provided a wealth of opportunity. With careful pruning, trees could supply an unlimited supply of fruit, timber, and protection.
And yet even today, you can find as many incorrect pruning techniques as you can proper practices. It doesn’t take more than a minute to drive down any street in Vancouver, WA to see a good example of bad pruning.
In general, pruning trees has developed into four distinct practices: for the garden, orchard, forest, and bonsai.
Garden trees were pruned to regulate size and shape, and to increase beauty. These pruning practices take a great deal of time and skill, and have to be repeated on a regular basis.
Orchard pruning was done to increase quality and quantity of fruit.
Forest pruning was done to enhance the quality of the wood for production.
Bonsai pruning was done to regulate size and shape. In today’s world, it can be used to tuck a home into an existing forest, while taking care not to damage the surrounding trees any more than is necessary. It can be used to conform trees to the landscape, taking in structure placement, house and power lines.
The confusion starts when trying to cross from one category to another.
- If small trees can be topped, why not big trees?
- If certain trees can be pruned and molded to fit particular space, why not all trees?
- If some trees grow back fuller and thicker with every pruning session, why not use that same method for every tree?
In short, the answer seems easy. Trees are not the same. They all have different characteristics and different needs. And yet if you look at most pruning guides, they refer to trees in a general sense.
Overall, an arborist will tell you that pruning a tree should be done for one of four reasons.
Reason 1: Prune to promote plant health
- Remove dying or dead branches injured by disease, insect infestation, animals, storms or other damage.
- Remove branches that rub together or are entwined with one another.
- Remove stubs or broken branches that can impede on the overall shape of the tree.
Reason 2: Prune to maintain
- Create a shape conducive to the surrounding areas. Avoid things like power wires, or encroaching on the roof lines of your home.
- Encourage flower and fruit development.
- Create hedges and windbreaks for environmental protection.
- Maintain the desired form for its location.
Reason 3: Prune to improve appearance
- Control size and shape.
- Keep the overall size and shape in proportion to landscaping throughout your yard.
- Remove unwanted branches, waterspouts and suckers that detract from the appearance.
Reason 4: Prune to protect
- Trees can become hazardous to both personal properties and people. Remove dead branches accordingly.
- Remove dead or dangerous trees altogether.
- Prune weak branches that overhang homes, decks, patios, parking areas, driveways or sidewalks.
- Prune branches that interfere with street lights, traffic signals, traffic signs, or overhead power lines.
- Prune thick branches that obscure entry points of the home.
Pruning is not something that occurs later in a tree’s life; it begins the moment it is planted in your yard. The pruning process begins as a critical step to ensure a young tree is trained and encouraged to develop into a strong, well-maintained tree that can last for decades.
The sooner you begin the pruning process, the less likely you’ll have heavy pruning requirements down the road when the tree is larger and more difficult to maintain.
At planting, remove only broken or diseased branches. Give the tree a chance to settle into the surroundings and take root before training begins. Then during the dormant season following planting, begin pruning by:
- Removing crossing branches and branches that are crossing back towards the center of the tree.
- Shaping the tree so it continues to form correctly. Do not remove the leader of the tree.
- Eliminating lower branches to gradually raise the crown of the tree to proper height. Remember; branches will continue to be at the level they are currently at; branches do not raise as a tree grows in height.
- Removing multiple leaders where single leaders are desirable.
If pruning at a young age is performed correctly, you’ll have a well-established tree that requires less maintenance overall. Still, pruning is necessary throughout the life of a tree.
Leave pruning of large trees to arborists that know how to handle proper equipment and have an understanding of the proper ways to maintain and promote growth in trees.
The most common types of tree pruning in established trees are:
Crown Raising – If the crown is too low to the ground, it can impede on everyday routines. Lower branches are often removed to allow more clearance for streets, lawns, sidewalks, power lines, etc.
Crown Lowering – In some cases, trees become too tall for their surrounding area. Removing large branches at the top of the tree may become necessary to keep it away from things like buildings or power lines. Reducing the crown is the least desirable of all pruning practices. Avoid if at all possible by considering placement in the planting process.
Crown Cleaning – Branches are often removed for a variety of reasons. Some break off from damaging storms. Some die from disease. Some begin growing in not so desirable directions. If a branch takes away from a strong structure, impedes on the overall health of the tree, or is necessary to keep safety in place, remove the branch.
Have a question about tree pruning? Want to make your tree as healthy as it can be? Give us a call today. Our arborists are always available to help answer your questions.