Pruning Shade Trees

Few plants are more important to the home landscape than shade trees. Yet often these trees get little attention. Is the shade tree something we can plant in our landscape and then forget? To ensure long lasting beauty, shade trees need periodic maintenance just like the rest of the landscape.

Why should shade trees be pruned? Pruning is a way to eliminate broken and disease branches thus improving the tree’s health. And while we try to plant trees in an area of the landscape where they have unhindered room to grow, there are always those unkept branches that eventually touch or overgrow the house or encroach on power lines. In these cases, pruning allows some measure of control of plant growth.

Practicing proper pruning will enhance both the health and beauty of your shade tree.

Most experts agree that late winter to early spring is the best time to prune with fall being the least desirable time. Light pruning to remove small or broken branches can be done at any time of the year.

Hand pruners

Using proper tools is a must when pruning. Hand pruners will work on limbs up to about half inch thick. Limb loppers can be used on branches up to one and a half inches thick while telescoping pole pruners can be used to reach limbs up to 30 feet high. When pruning smaller limbs make sure the limb is cut flush with the branch it is attached to leaving only the branch collar or swollen section of bark at the base of the limb. This will ensure proper healing of the branch.

Hand saws

A hand saw can be used for larger limbs. Practice the three-point cutting method when removing a limb. First, make an undercut on the limb about 1 foot from the trunk. This cut should only go about 1/4 of the way through the limb. This will keep the bark from ripping when the limb falls. The second cut is made on the top side of the limb and begins about 2 inches further out than the first cut. Cut all the way through the limb with this cut. The third cut is to remove the stub of limb that remains. Cut the limb back to just outside the bark collar where it is attached to the trunk. Remember it is best not to remove more than 1/3 of the tree’s canopy during a single season.

There is no need to apply paint or dressing to the cuts. Such materials may actually inhibit wound healing by the tree.