Friday, September 30, 2016

My Tree and Pruning Rules

These are some very good tree and pruning rules to live by.

Pick the right tree before planting.  If a tree already exists, work on long-term goals and needs for that tree.  Plan for what you want the tree to become.  Make sure trees are compatible with each other.

Understand that trees are just as important, maybe even more so, than other features of your landscape, and need good management.  Lawns and shrubs will recover from bad care better than trees, so give trees more thought.

Bad pruning is frequently irreversible.  Can be corrected to a large degree over the long term by a SKILLED tree pruner.  Bad pruning is worse than no pruning.

Don't trust that gardeners, tree pruners and arborists know how to best care for a tree.  Learn what you can and discuss it.  See their past work and get references.  Pick their brains.  Be careful about learning about pruning from the internet.

Study bonsai trees, in person or in photos.  Not only is it fascinating, but you can learn the very best pruning techniques from these little trees,  which are pruned to a higher degree than landscape trees, and the techniques are transferable.  You would probably do well to hire anyone to prune your trees, at least smaller ones, if they have some bonsai background.

Safety first.  Watch your step and your eyes while walking around and always look before stepping back to examine a tree.  Wear a helmet if branches may fall on you or if you're on a ladder.  Watch for people, animals, wires, cars, and other objects that could be harmed during pruning.

Prune for safety, health, long-term and short-term goals with any tree, in that order.

Learn how to make proper cuts, and use the correct, sharp and clean tool for the job.  Disinfect after every cut if the tree has problems.

Strive to make pruning unnoticeable.  A great pruning routine should rarely be seen unless you're looking for manicured styles.

Dead or diseased branches should always be removed, any time of year, and are easier to spot when the tree is in leaf than while leafless. Some dead branches are hanging on by a thread, ready to come crashing down on something or someone.  Oaks tend to have weaker dead branches than many other trees.

Periodically inspect your trees for pests and diseases, especially susceptible ones like oaks, birches, Callery/Bradford pears, fruit trees, elms, etc.  Treat as needed or call an expert.

Avoid whorls-more than one or two branches emerging from the trunk or parent branch in any location.  Some trees have a natural tendency for growing this way, but poor pruning encourages this, including the multi-branching at 6' off the ground you see everywhere.  Trees look best when the major forks are limited to two branches. 

Promote good tapering in both the trunk and branches.  Stronger and looks better.  Lighten and thin at or near the tips where needed.

Promote good ramification--good, even, progressive branching patterns.  Coarse to fine.

Try to promote wide branch crotches, and eliminate narrow, included-bark crotches if they may become weak unions.

Never pollard a tree or commit Crape Murder.  Not healthy or attractive, and creates extra work.

Avoid liontailing: most of the foliage and fine branching only near the end of a branch.  Promote more even branching within the whole crown.  Some trees liontail themselves over time, but you can improve this.

A branch attached to another branch will increase the diameter of the parent branch and increase vigor at that location.  Keeping a temporary branch can be great for promoting tapering even if you know it will come off later.

Don't open up a tree so much that the bark can get sunscald.

Find the best timing for pruning a particular tree in your particular situation.  This can be tricky and fraught with problems.

Aim to keep the natural essence, growth shape and style of most trees unless there is a good reason to change it.

A smaller-diameter cut will heal faster than a large one.  Better for resisting disease and ugliness.  Pencil-sized cuts are a good goal.  Try to avoid more than one cut in one spot at a time so as to not cause large wound areas.

Try to encourage branches to be no more than half the diameter of the trunk at the point of attachment.

When re-leader in (cutting a branch back to a smaller branch, or the trunk back to train a new leader), the new leader should be at least 1/3 the diameter of the part you remove.

Try to remove no more than 25% of the live wood and footage of any branch at a time. Removing too much will reduce vigor and the whole branch may die.  If a branch recovers quickly and shows vigor, you can trim again soon, progressively.

Pruning lightly and more frequently is much better than heavily and infrequently.  Very young and old trees should be pruned less.  5% to 10% each time, 2 or 3 times a year is much better than 25% once in a while.  Some trees can handle more, but needing this means you waited too long.

Make the tapered, ramified branching structure of the tree an outstanding feature, not just the support for the leaves and flowers.

Keep the root crown/trunk flare exposed, clean and dry for better health and longevity.  Don't mulch right up to the trunk.

Broken branches from weakness are almost always avoidable by good preventative pruning.

Avoid overly-straight branches.

Pruning can increase the health, vigor and lifespan of most trees IF DONE CORRECTLY.

Trees from the nursery are rarely grown with the best training for a proper shape.

You can make a tree grow taller or shorter, wider or narrower, denser or more open than it would naturally.

Pruning in summer will tend to lower the energy of a tree, which can be a good or bad thing.   Pruning during the winter tends to redistribute the the pent-up dormant energy, which can be a useful tool, or a nightmare.

Removing fading or spent or unneeded flowers and seeds will increase the vigor of a tree.  Flowers and seed use a lot of energy.  Sometimes removing these at the right time will alow for a second flush of new flowers.

Remove reactive vertical water sprouts, but keep some temporarily if they're filling in a hole, or adding vigor to a weak or untapped branch.  Remove ones that are increasing taper where you don't want it,  usually toward the tips,   best to remove any before they get to be about 1/2" in diameter.  These can occur in most trees after heavy pruning, but are the most vigorous in purple plum trees.

Be extra cautious when pruning a tree that won't back bud or sprout from old wood, making replacement branching difficult.   Most noticeably this happens on pines and most other conifers.   Once it's gone,  it's gone for good.

Don't plant shrubs or other plants too close to a tree's trunk.  Give it at least a foot or so.

Try to determine your tree's genus, specie, botanical name, and needs.

Keep a journal on when, why and how your trees are pruned, and the immediate and future results, along with helpful notes.

More to come, keep checking back............

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