Monday, December 21, 2015

Pruning: Goldilocks Style and Father Time

The best pruning takes place when you prune JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT.  Not too much or too little.

I've had awkward situations with customers and also with friends while helping them prune their trees.  They say either "better stop there", thinking that proper, meticulous, methodical winter pruning is wreaking havoc,  or "take more off" so that it's immediately smaller or thinner, or assumed that taking more off now saves effort in future seasons.

The fact is, almost nobody has managed their trees properly, regardless of how much they've learned or how many trees they look at or who they hired to do the work.  I would estimate that well over 95% of people doing tree trimming, either as a job, a career, or as a DIY or hobby project, are doing it completely wrong.  And once a tree is mismanaged, it only tends to get worse every season.  It's heartbreaking if you really love trees.  And I hate to say it, but the vast majority of people are clueless about what constitutes great pruning other than the most basic rules that don't include the finer points .  Don't look to arborists or tree surgeons or guys that just drive around with a truck, a chain saw and a ladder.  These guys hardly ever get it right.

Think of it this way.  If you get a bad cut on your finger, likely to get infected, leaving it alone would be like not pruning a tree at all.  Cleaning it or putting a Band-Aid on it would be like pruning just a little bit, but not enough.  It needs more.  Cutting off your hand would be like over-pruning.  A bit drastic.  Well, your hand isn't gonna grow back.  A tree, on the other hand, has the potential to grow back to what it should be provided there's proper management forever after, and if you let Father Time do his thing.  However, in many cases, things will never be right, so you either compromise or cut the tree down.

There are certainly cases where taking more off than you might like is needed..  I'll have a posting about Crape Murder and how to solve it, but to make a point here, if your trees have ugly knobs, knuckles, knots, whatever you want to call them, the solution is to remove them and get them started in the right direction, and provided the branches are less than about 2" in diameter, in a few years the tree may actually look normal.  BUT ONLY IF NEARLY PERFECT MANAGEMENT TAKES PLACE.  The actual process may appear drastic, but it's the only way, just like surgery is drastic but can save your life.

If you really want to do it right, have a meeting with the tree trimmer and ask what they're gonna do, exactly why they're gonna do it, and what the results will be now and in future seasons.  Ask them what's the problem to begin with that needs correcting.  They should be able to justify EVERY SINGLE CUT.  Don't let them fool you with keywords and jargon you don't understand.  You should be clear on what's happening.  If they don't make sense, don't hire them.

One really hard thing to understand is that pruning properly one year will mean less pruning in future seasons.  If you spend 3 hours on a tree in a critical year, you only have to spend a fraction of that in each future year.  Once again with Crape Myrtles, you could spend 2 or 3 hours cutting off all the little branches every year and have a really ugly tree for most of the year, or spend about 3 hours in a critical season, maybe another hour or two in the subsequent months, and then each year after that should be much less work, and the tree will look good even during the winter .  Especially if you let the tree grow to its natural height.  If you want to keep it down just a bit, that's gonna take some extra time each year, and not really possible forever unless you want it to be a lollipop.  Of course, if the tree needs a lot of work, the major repairs will need to be done incrementally over a few years   Making an abused or neglected tree look great may take up to 10 years or more, and you may have to live with a "pretty good" tree, not a great one.  But at least not a terrible one. 

Once someone who really knows their stuff gives you an education, you'll never see trees the same way again, and you'll start noticing how badly managed most are.  Have them point out in any given tree how it could be better.

Opinions, however, can be bizarre.  Some people think that clunky, choppy trees with big, swollen, disproportionate sections, vertical shoots and floppy flowers look good.  But then some people thought striped polyester disco jump suits, avocado green refrigerators and first-generation microwave cardboard pizzas were just terrific.

So, Goldilocks, though she was transient and breaking into homes, had it right with the goal of balance.

You too can be a TreeDawg Knight.

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