Last time I opened up the subject of tree pruning. This week I'll finish this topic for now with tips on how to prune, what to prune, pruning tools and additional pruning references.
Just remember, now is not the time to aggressively prune your trees. You can always remove dead wood and even provide the tree a little trim if branches are getting in your way. But save the big job until spring or early winter after your deciduous trees have shed their leaves and called it quits for the year.
First let's talk tools. These range from hand pruning shears, long-handle loppers, hand pruning saws, bow saws, pole pruners and even chain saws. Most pruning can be done with hand pruning shears, long-handle loppers and hand pruning saws. As is true with most things you buy, you get better tools when you spend more money. Sharper tools make better cuts and require less effort.
The best hand pruning shears I have ever used are made by Felco. The best hand pruning saws are the Silky Zubats. There just is no comparison between these and the home improvement store-bought pruning saws and shears. But these two tools will get you into serious money!
Now how do we cut branches off trees? If you are on top of your game, you should only need to prune branches two inches or less in diameter. Wounds from cutting off larger branches are slow to heal and open for disease problems.
To promote good healing of pruning wounds, make cuts just outside of the branch collar. This is the swollen area next to the trunk or main branch. We do not make slush cuts! We also don't leave unsightly stubs. And never use pruning paint to cover fresh cuts. This used to be the recommended practice many years ago but we found it delayed wound closure and actually increased disease potential.
Remember, we typically take no more than 15-25% of the live foliage off in a given season. I like to err on the conservative side. Also, avoid "lion tailing" or "limbing up" where small twiggy inner growth is cleaned off the main scaffold limbs. This increases foliage weight to the ends of remaining branches, increasing potential for wind damage. Besides, this is an unsightly look!
When removing larger branches with a saw, do not make a single cut. The weight of the branch will cause a split that will peel the bark and some wood away back to the trunk or main scaffold limb. Use the three-cut method. First make a cut about six to eight inches out and on the underside of the branch to be pruned. This cut need not be very deep. Then your second cut will be on top and out from this first cut about three to four inches. This cut will drop the branch but prevent any splitting from extending past your initial cut. Now you can make your final cut just out from the branch collar. Good job!
So to recap why we prune — we prune to improve the appearance or health of a tree, to control the size of a tree (both width and height), to prevent personal injury or property damage, to train young trees to be stronger and more vigorous, to influence fruiting and flowering, and to rejuvenate old or damaged trees.
If you find you must remove a tree or require extensive pruning of large trees, I would suggest hiring a professional arborist. Pruning from high up on ladders is not my cup of tea. And never use a chainsaw while standing on a ladder. Keep those feet firmly planted on terra firma. One last caution — watch out where your pruned branches will fall.
If you need further information on the whys and the wherefores of pruning I suggest starting with this link to Planttalk Colorado: www.ext.colostate.edu/ptlk/1730.html, a product of Colorado State University Extension. This site contains a wealth of gardening information including how to prune shade trees and fruit trees.
Vince Urbina, Grand Junction community forrester, and I are planning on conducting a hands-on pruning workshop this November, weather permitting. More details will be forthcoming. 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