branches

Denny Schrock

pruning with confidence

Remove branches by pruning just outside the swollen branch collar at the base of the branch, where it attaches to the main stem.

Remove branches by pruning just outside the swollen branch collar at the base of the branch, where it attaches to the main stem.

Late winter is a great time to catch up on pruning deciduous trees. With leaves off the tree, it’s easier to see the branching structure. And pruning now minimizes disease problems because pruning cuts will seal before most diseases become active. (There’s no need to apply pruning paint to the wound.)

I did all my tree pruning last weekend. Of course, my trees are only 6 years old, so it wasn’t much of a chore! However, just because your trees are young is no excuse to avoid pruning if they need it. In fact, it’s much better  to correct problems when the tree is young rather than to wait until it’s full grown, and pruning becomes a major operation.

Start by removing dead, damaged or crossing branches. Also prune out watersprouts (strongly upright growing shoots on side branches) and suckers (upright growing shoots from near the base of the tree). Correct structural problems evident in the branching pattern of the tree. These might be double leaders (2 branches of nearly equal size dominating as the main trunk) or branches with narrow crotch angles. Both of these conditions lead to weak branches that are likely to split later in the tree’s life.

This dead branch stub should have been removed long ago. Note the narrow crotch angle it forms with the branch to its left. This weak branch connection will eventually split apart.

This dead branch stub should have been removed long ago. Note the narrow crotch angle it forms with the branch to its left. This weak branch connection will eventually split apart.

If you have old overgrown trees in need of pruning, consider hiring a certified arborist rather than trying to tackle a job that’s too big for you. Don’t attempt to dangle from a ladder or climb a tree to prune without proper safety equipment. Leave that to trained professionals. The International Society of Arboriculture can tell you whether the arborist that you’re considering is certified or not. And whatever, you do, DON’T top your trees! Doing so weakens the tree and sets it up for failure. For more details about why to avoid topping trees, check the Plant Amnesty website.