Basic Rules of PruningEarly spring is by far the best time to prune your shrubs and trees. Dormant pruning (shortly before the spring growth starts) minimizes the amount of time fresh wounds are exposed. Also, pruning before there are leaves allows you to make better decisions because the structure of the plant is not obscured by leaves. However, trees and shrubs that bloom early in the growing season on last year’s growth should be pruned immediately after they finish blooming. Some examples include azalea, chokeberry, forsythia, magnolia, or early blooming spirea. Shrubs grown primarily for their foliage should be pruned prior to when their spring growth begins and some examples include barberry, burning bush, and honeysuckle. Some trees such as maples, butternuts, walnuts, and birch trees have free flowing sap in the late winter or early spring. While this is generally not a major concern, unless you are into syrup making, pruning of these species can be done in late spring or early summer to avoid the loss of sap.
Rules for Pruning TreesAccording to the Arbor Day Foundation, you should follow these steps when pruning your trees.
- Begin visual inspection at the top of the tree and work downward.
- Use The ⅓ and ¼ Rules of Pruning
- Never remove more than ¼ of a tree’s crown in a season
- Ideally, main side branches should be at least ⅓ smaller than the diameter of the trunk.
- For most deciduous (broadleaf) trees, don’t prune up from the bottom any more than ⅓ of the tree’s total height.
- Where possible, try to encourage side branches that form angles that are ⅓ off vertical that form “10 o’clock” or “2 o’clock” angles with the trunk.
- For most species, the tree should have a single trunk. Identify the best leader and lateral branches before you begin pruning and remove defective parts before pruning for form.
- Don’t worry about protecting pruning cuts. For aesthetics, you may feel better painting large wounds but it doesn’t prevent or reduce decay.
- Keep tools sharp. One-hand pruning shears with curved blades work best on young trees.
- For high branches use a pole pruner. A major job on a big tree should be done by a professional arborist.
- For larger branches, cut outside the branch bark and ridge collar (swollen area). Do not leave a protruding stub. If the limb is too small to have formed a collar cut close.
- When simply shortening a small branch, make the cut at a lateral bud or another lateral branch. Favor a bud that will produce a branch that will grow in desired direction (usually outward). The cut should be sharp and clean and made at a slight angle about ¼ inch beyond the bud.
Many homeowners are leery of pruning around their yard and we understand! It can be scary to cut something back and hope you did it right and aren’t killing your tree or bush. However, pruning is vital for maintaining healthy growth. If you are unsure, feel free to give us a call and our Landscape Maintenance team would be more than happy to come out and take care of the pruning for you.