Tree Pruning Tips

Pruning Young Trees

Proper pruning is essential in developing a tree with a strong structure and desirable form. Trees that receive the appropriate pruning measures while they are young will require little corrective pruning when they mature.

Keep these few simple principles in mind before pruning a tree:

  • Each cut has the potential to change the growth of the tree. Always have a purpose in mind before making a cut.
  • Proper technique is essential. Poor pruning can cause damage that lasts for the life of the tree. Learn where and how to make the cuts before picking up the pruning shears.
  • Trees do not heal the way people do. When a tree is wounded, it must grow over and compartmentalize the wound. As a result, the wound is contained within the tree forever.
  • Small cuts do less damage to the tree than large cuts. For that reason, proper pruning (training) of young trees is critical. Waiting to prune a tree until it is mature can create the need for large cuts that the tree cannot easily close.

Making the Cut

Where you make a pruning cut is critical to a tree’s response in growth and wound closure. Make pruning cuts just outside the branch collar. Because the branch collar contains trunk or parent branch tissues, the tree will be damaged unnecessarily if you remove or damage it. In fact, if the cut is large, the tree may suffer permanent internal decay from an improper pruning cut. If a permanent branch is to be shortened, cut it back to a lateral branch or bud. Internodal cuts, or cuts made between buds or branches, may lead to stem decay, sprout production, and misdirected growth.

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Pruning Tools

When pruning trees, it is important to have the right tool for the job. For small trees, most of the cuts can be made with hand pruning shears (secateurs). The scissor-type, or bypass blade hand pruners, are preferred over the anvil type as they make cleaner, more accurate cuts. Cuts larger than one-half inch in diameter should be made with lopping shears or a pruning saw. Never use hedge shears to prune a tree. Whatever tool you use, make sure it is kept clean and sharp.

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Establishing a Strong Scaffold Structure

A good structure of primary scaffold branches should be established while the tree is young. The scaffold branches provide the framework of the mature tree. Properly trained young trees will develop a strong structure that requires less corrective pruning as they mature.

The goal in training young trees is to establish a strong trunk with sturdy, well-spaced branches. The strength of the branch structure depends on the relative sizes of the branches, the branch angles, and the spacing of the limbs.

Naturally, these factors vary with the growth habit of the tree. Norfolk Island Pine and Liquidambars, for example, have a conical shape with a central leader. Jacarandas and Poinciana’s are often wide-spreading without a central leader. Other trees, such as Weeping Figs, are densely branched.

Good pruning techniques remove structurally weak branches while maintaining the natural form of the tree.

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