People get scared when it comes to pruning, and I’m not sure why.
I’ve done some pruning one-on-one with homeowners. I tell them to take about 30 percent of the live wood out of their backyard apple tree, but when they finish pruning, there’s about 10 percent scattered under the tree.
I question their math (or their eye). All too often, they think they removed 30 percent, but at about 5 percent, they started to get worried that the pruners and loppers were doing nothing other than killing the tree.
If you are smiling as you read this, then you know that you are one of those people. It’s OK – you are not alone.
This spring may be challenging for many of you because there are a lot of trees that need to be pruned. Perhaps you are not confident in your ability (we can help with that); or you don’t like climbing ladders or trees with sharp objects (justified); or the pruning that needs to happen is too high up for you to reach (call an arborist).
But just like your hair – or so I’m told – all trees like the occasional cutting, shaping and strengthening.
If your tree has broken branches that are still attached to the tree, the best thing you can do is to get the wound as neat and clean as possible.
To do this, make sure you follow these three steps for proper pruning, which prevent bark tears:
Twelve inches away from the trunk or from where you want the prune to be, make your first cut on the underside of the branch, sawing upward through one-third of the branch.Move a couple inches outward from the undercut and saw downward through branch. At the point of no return, the weight of the branch will snap the limb, but the undercut will stop bark tearing.Make your last cut just outside the branch collar, the spot where branch and trunk join. Often, you can see a slight swelling at this point. This same process should be followed for any branch larger than 1 inch in diameter. No need to apply wound dressing or pruning paint – they only make matters worse.
If you want to just keep the growth of the tree, or even just a branch, in check, make thinning cuts. These removal cuts generally take an entire shoot or limb back to the larger parent branch or trunk. When this is done, some shoot tips are left so the tree is still able to grow, but in a more natural growth form that can allow for better light penetration into the canopy. It can also reduce the weight of the branches, making the tree more resistant to snow loading.
In an ideal world, all pruning cuts would be made to branches that are 2 inches in diameter or smaller. But we don’t live in one of those worlds, nor does Mother Nature. Just know that the larger the cut, the greater the chance for failure and reduced health that may come with internal decay and cracking.
And if any job looks too daunting, call a certified arborist. They’re good with sharp objects and aren’t afraid of heights.
Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6464.Darrin Parmenter