How Do I Know What to Prune?

Pruning is not just a tool for aesthetics; it can save trees from damage and keep them healthy. Whether the cause is storm damage, a hazard to people or property, or just old age, there are several signs you need to look for to prune properly.

It’s important to prune spring-flowering shrubs like rhododendrons and forsythia right after they finish flowering. Prune them any sooner and you risk snipping off growing buds.

The Four Ds

Pruning doesn’t just mean a yearly haircut for your plants. You should prune out the dead, diseased, damaged and dangerous limbs of your trees and shrubs. It’s also a good idea to do structural pruning to shape your plants into the form that you want them to have, and to improve their health and productivity.

When you’re deciding what to prune, remember that it’s important to remove dead or dying branches as soon as you notice them. This will help to reduce the chance of insect infestation and diseases spreading from one branch to other.

Damaged limbs can also be pruned, but you should be careful not to cut too close to the branch collar — the area around the base of the branch. This can interfere with the natural healing process and cause the wound to open up. It’s important to prune out any damaged limbs right away to prevent the spread of disease or injury to other branches.

You should also prune out any limbs that are growing too close to other objects. This can prevent sunlight and air from getting to the bottom of the plant, and it can also lead to disease or insect problems. You should also prune out any limbs near power lines, as they can become a hazard during a storm.

Structural pruning is a great way to help your fruit tree grow into the form that you want it to have. You can do this by maintaining a single leader and by removing any limbs that compete with the leader.

Another reason to do structural pruning is to shape the plant for visual impact. It’s often best to do this when a plant is young so that it doesn’t have the opportunity to establish a woody crotch, which can make it difficult to access the fruit.

Finally, you should prune out any limbs that are crossing or rubbing against each other. This can lead to abrasions and wounds that are not able to heal properly, and it can also lead to reduced growth and weakened structure in the plant.

Dead or Diseased Branches

Like a doctor treating a trauma patient, a gardener might feel overwhelmed when confronted with the number of damaged parts of a shrub or tree that need attention. To make the job easier, prune out dead or diseased branches first. This removes an immediate threat and gives the plant a chance to recover.

Disease attacks plants by penetrating the bark and invading living cells. Plants have natural ways to isolate invading cells and fight off infection, but when a wound is opened or the plant is weakened, disease can get a foothold. Pruning out dead or diseased branches helps plants fight off diseases faster.

If you’re not sure whether a branch is dead, try pushing on it with your fingers. If the branch feels mushy, cut it off just above where it connects to the main trunk of the plant. Inspect the cut to be certain it is clean. A stub left after a pruning cut slows healing and can invite rot and disease.

A good time to prune out dead or diseased branches is in late winter. Most woody plants are dormant during this time and any damage is easy to see, not obscured by leaves. Pruning during this season also promotes early spring growth for some plants, such as narrow-leaved evergreens and pawpaw trees.

For some species of trees, such as elm, ash and maple, pruning in late winter can encourage the development of epicormic shoots, or water sprouts. These fast-growing vertical shoots are a defense mechanism that grows to deal with injury, allowing trees to protect their trunks. However, if too many epicormic shoots form, the tree’s form can be compromised.

If a major limb is broken by a storm or by the actions of animals or humans, it’s usually best to replace it. This may involve tying a lateral branch into a vertical position and bracing it with a stick. However, this is often a dangerous proposition and should be left to experienced arborists. If the main trunk of a tree is split or more than 25% of the canopy is lost, the tree should be removed.

Weak Branches

Pruning weak branches reduces risk to people, property and automobiles. It can also improve the appearance of a landscape and encourages flowering and fruit development. In most cases, pruning should be done in the late dormant season before spring growth. It is important to remove damaged or diseased limbs as soon as possible to prevent insect infestation or other problems. It is equally important not to over-prune, especially when removing large limbs. This can leave stubs that may not heal properly, promote suckering and lead to future health issues.

If a tree is heavily overgrown, it can be pruned to increase light penetration or airflow through the canopy and to minimize shading. This type of pruning is typically done on young trees, but can also be done to mature plants that are in need of renewal. It is important to remember that it is best to thin out the crown over a number of years rather than all at once, as this can be stressful for the plant.

Branches that grow closely together, or that are too close to the trunk of a tree, can cause it to become top heavy and more susceptible to storm damage and failure. These limbs can also interfere with walkways, driveways and parking spaces. In many areas, it is a city or county ordinance that these limbs be trimmed to protect sidewalks, curbs and roadways.

In addition to reducing the weight of a tree, annual cutting can help promote stronger growth by removing old wood and encouraging good airflow to reduce fungal disease infection. It is important to use sharp tools to make clean cuts and to remove any stubs that will not callous over.

When a Y junction on a tree starts to break, it can be saved by making a 45 degree diagonal pruning cut. This will redirect the energy flow from the broken branch and make the dominant central leader a stronger branch.

Broken Branches

It’s very difficult to successfully reattach broken branches. In fact, attempting to do so is almost always a waste of energy. Woody plants are unable to grow across open wounds; they compartmentalize them, so a break in a branch or stem is not easily repaired by the tree. If the limb can’t be saved, it should be removed. Attempting to cable or tie broken limbs back to the trunk can also be wasted effort because trees do not easily grow around these devices. It is important to prune the stubs of broken branches as soon as possible to reduce damage and to encourage proper healing.

If the only reason a limb has broken is due to storm damage, it may not need pruning. However, branches that touch or threaten utility lines or other structures should be trimmed as soon as possible to prevent injuries and property damage. For example, a tree trunk that cracks during a storm could fall and cause injury to people or damage to buildings.

While it is best to leave major re-construction projects to the professionals, small projects are ideal for DIYers. For example, a birch tree that has been damaged in the winter and will be unlikely to root from a cutting taken from it in the spring might benefit from having its stub cut down to just above the swollen area at the base of the branch (called the branch collar) and then being staked in a vertical position braced with a stick. This will allow the tree to regain its natural shape and give it the best chance for a healthy recovery.

For larger jobs like pruning large, established shade or fruit trees, it is a good idea to contact a qualified arborist. These experts can safely prune tall, mature trees while preserving the health of the plant. For tips on how to properly prune a tree or for more information about pruning services, contact Idaho falls tree service today!

Pruning is not just a tool for aesthetics; it can save trees from damage and keep them healthy. Whether the cause is storm damage, a hazard to people or property, or just old age, there are several signs you need to look for to prune properly. It’s important to prune spring-flowering shrubs like rhododendrons and…