August ushers in a time when we do not recommend the pruning of trees. But before I explain why, let me pass on a recent pruning experience I had with Vince Urbina, a community forester with the Colorado State Forest Service in Grand Junction.
Vince and I had been contacted by the Surface Creek Valley Historical Society to help explain how to properly prune the many trees in the Pioneer Town Arboretum. This is a delightful place with many different kinds of trees, most with proper identification tags or plaques. These trees were in need of pruning, a chore that had been neglected for many years.
When Vince was asked about pruning techniques, especially with Colorado blue spruce, he wisely opined that it depended upon your philosophy of pruning. The police department in Cedaredge believes that spruces need to have their limbs pruned up off the ground so that no one can hide in the lower branches. Some other folks have this same philosophy but often for other reasons.
Vince and I both believe that trees should be allowed to express their natural growth habits within reason. We believe that spruces and some pines need to be allowed to retain their lowermost branches. We would prune out the dead wood and tip prune any branches that were in the way of paths or driveways.
So why do we prune trees? Some of the reasons are to remove crossed branches, for height control, to improve the tree's appearance, to remove dead wood, to minimize foot or vehicular traffic impingement, to encourage new growth, to remove weak branches and to fix storm-damaged trees. We are talking here about shade and ornamental trees not fruit trees.
I believe there are those who like to exert their dominion over things, including trees, trying to make them either into something they are not or to fit them in places they do not belong. George William Curtis wisely stated, "A tree which has lost its head will never recover it again, and will survive only as a monument of the ignorance and folly of its tormentor." A branch removed can never be put back. But one can always come back another day to remove more branches.
I believe that pruning is a form of sculpting. I like to try to visualize what I want the final product to look like but stand back often as I take off branches. If a tree is first pruned when it is small, there should not be a lot of pruning required. You certainly wouldn't need to remove large branches if you started your pruning program early in the growth of the tree.
Now if you inherited an unkempt tree or one planted too close to structures or paths, that would be another matter all together. Also, storm-damaged trees are always in need of corrective pruning. So if you start early in the tree's life and plant them in places where they can grow without boundaries, then pruning should be a breeze.
Vince and I volunteered five hours of our time a couple of weeks ago to prune most of the trees in the Pioneer Town Arboretum. That was a lot of work but will pay dividends for years to come. Recommendations were made for some trees to be removed or cut down. They were either crowding existing buildings or other higher value trees.
We pruned before the August deadline mentioned at the beginning of this column. You see, pruning after July can encourage a flush of new growth and set the tree up for winter kill. After deciduous trees are dormant, you can again safely prune. There are no time restrictions on pruning out damaged or dead branches.
Next time I'll get into the nuts and bolts of pruning, how to prune, what to prune, pruning tools and additional pruning references. Until then, happy gardening!
Jim Leser retired to Cedaredge after a career with Texas A&M University Extension in entomology. He is a member of the Cedaredge Tree Board and a master gardener.blog comments powered by Disqus