Let's start with the basics.
What does it mean to prune a tree? Pruning is the systematic removal of branches. It is true most trees can survive without pruning. However, pruning help trees remain healthy and vital. It can also help them fight off disease.
Why Do I Need to Prune
Every time a branch is removed there is potential for injuring the tree. This is why you can't just fire up the chainsaw and begin lopping off branches to your heart's content.
Removing dead branches is one of the most common reasons for pruning. Just like humans, trees have to worry about insects, bacteria and, fungi. This terrible trio is naturally attracted to dead branches. Getting rid of dead branches helps to nip these potential problems in the bud.
Good Branch Structure
As we mentioned above, trees can survive without our intervention. They've been doing it for millions of years. However, making sure a tree has good branch structure is one of the best ways to keep it happy and healthy over the long haul.
Pruning also helps to ensure proper amounts of light and oxygen reach all parts of the tree. The same is true for plants or groundcover under the tree.
Keeping Everything Looking Good
In a previous blog, we mentioned Landscaping is one of the best ways homeowners can boost the value of their property. Many arborists consider pruning both art and science. Sometimes, pruning is just about keeping everything looking good.
We can't answer the age-old question: If a tree falls in the forest does it make any noise? But, we can tell you if a tree limb falls on your car or house you will most likely begin making unhappy noises. If a branch smashes into your car or house, you could wind up with thousands of dollars’ worth of damage or worse.
The Physiology of Pruning
Pruning creates physical and chemical reactions that can have a big impact on growth. Most obviously, cutting off a branch or series of branches can create a physical wound or a number of wounds on the tree. As alarming as this may sound if you've been careful about what you cut and where the wounds should not be that big of a deal to the tree.
Tree growth is triggered and regulated by chemicals released within the tree. Just like veins carry blood to different parts of our body, all trees have internal pathways that allow these chemicals as well as nutrients and water to flow throughout the tree.
Selectively removing branches disrupts the flow of chemicals and nutrients responsible for growing new shoots and roots.
It's All about Timing
As is the case with most things in life, it all comes down to proper timing. If you are removing dead, dying, or diseased branches tending to them as soon as you notice the problem is the best bet.
Even though pruning helps trees in the long-run, the tree does need to recover after branches have been removed. Trees will typically recover fastest if the pruning is done before the start of the spring growth.
Making The Cut
Proper pruning comes down to location, location, location. As we said earlier, now is not the time to fire up the chainsaw and begin lopping off branches left and right. Pruning is a calculated process that requires a deliberate approach.
Proper techniques dictate three cuts to get rid of larger limbs. You may be wondering, "why do I need to make three cuts just to get rid of one tree limb?" Each notch or cut serves a purpose. The goal is to remove the branch while keeping the stress on the tree to a minimum.
Step One-Locate the branch collar. It is the swollen portion of the limb that forms where the limb and the tree trunk meet.
Step Two-Start at the bottom of the limb two to three feet away from the tree trunk. Cut from the bottom one quarter of the way through the branch. Cutting this notch keeps the bark from splitting on the next cut and minimizes potential damage to the tree.
Step Three- Cut all the way through the limb on the outside of the notch you made with the first cut. This may seem like an extra step in the process. But, it is an important step and should not be skipped. It removes the excess weight of the limb and makes the final cut safer for both you and the tree.
Step Four-This is the cut for all the marbles. Cut through the limb just outside of the branch collar. You do not want to cut the limb off flush with the trunk. The branch collar is the area where the scar will form and the tree will heal. Follow the natural angle of the branch collar. If you can't maneuver the saw to make the cut at the proper angle cut the limb from the bottom up.
Cutting Too Close to the Trunk-If you don't leave out space for the branch collar when making your final cut the tree will not be able to heal as quickly. In fact, you could even be left with a hole in the tree or a wound that take significantly longer to heal.
Leaving Two Much Behind-Since the branch collar is responsible for the healing process you want to leave too much of the branch behind. While you don't want to make the cut flush with the branch collar you don't want to have a stub shooting out of the branch collar either.
Not Getting Rid of Excess Weight-If you don't move excess portions of the limb the entire branch may break off causing a severe wound to the trunk of the tree. A severe wound can seriously weaken the tree leaving it unable to fight off infections or diseases.
Being Overzealous-Pruning is very important for keeping trees strong and healthy. But, you certainly can have too much of a good thing. Try to keep pruning to a minimum. Ideally, you never want to remove more than half of a tree's canopy in one season.
Types of Cuts
Cleaning-The removal of dead or unhealthy branches from the crown of the tree.
Thinning-Selectively removing branches from the crown to allow proper flow of air and light to all areas of the tree. Thinning also reduces excess weight on larger limbs while helping the tree retain its natural shape.
Raising-Cutting away limbs to increase clearance under the tree. The raising technique is often employed to make room for buildings, cars, pedestrians, and a better view.
Reduction-These cuts are designed to reduce the tree's height or width.