Ornamental trees are trees in your lawn and garden selected for aesthetic value. It could be beautiful flowers, tasty fruits, a pleasing fragrance, bold fall colors, unusual or interesting bark, or some combination of these or other properties. Medium- and large-sized ornamental trees can also provide welcome shade on hot days. If those trees cast shade on the house itself for portions of the day, they may even help lower energy costs during the summer months.
Everyone knows that watering and fertilizing trees, and protecting them from insects and disease, are important for a tree’s health, but not everyone knows the important role pruning plays. Pruning is the removal of select parts of a tree or shrub, and it is something often overlooked due to lack of the proper tools and know-how, worry about damaging or killing the plant, or believing it is an overwhelming task.
Without regular and properly performed pruning, though, your trees can become weaker. There will likely be a negative effect on the beauty of the property as well. And unlike most shrubs, neglected trees can even pose risks to people or property.
Pruning is like the routine maintenance performed on a machine. Regular and proper care keeps a tree looking good and growing properly. If you have the proper tools and knowledge, it’s usually not as big of a job as you might have feared, and when it is more than you can or want to manage, there are professional services that can help.
Why You Need To Prune Your Trees
The reasons to prune trees largely overlap with those to prune shrubs, but some are unique to trees, with a key distinction being threats trees can pose to life and property.
- Pruning newly planted trees reduce leaf area and help promote their survival during this period of their lives when they are most vulnerable.
- If a tree’s branches have become thick and overgrown, pruning them may allow more sunlight for flowers and shrubs planted underneath them to grow.
- Removing areas of weak or unwanted growth will make the tree look better, as will removing dead or diseased branches and limbs.
- Diseased branches may present risks to other parts of the tree, and removing them as soon as they are identified will help prevent that.
- After a tree has flowered and the flowers have faded, removing the old buds makes room for new ones to appear.
- Finally, when branches grow next to houses and power lines, there is a risk of structural damage to the home and downed power lines, the latter of which can be deadly. Weak or dead limbs are susceptible to storms and strong winds, which can make them break and fall, sometimes tragically injuring or killing people. Overgrown trees can block visibility at driveway edges and street interactions, heightening the risk of accidents occurring.
What Is the Best Time To Prune My Trees?
There is a common belief that, barring emergencies, you should only prune trees in the winter when there is not growth you might be disrupting. This is not true; the real answer is that it depends. You can prune at almost any time of the year, but it’s best to do so at particular times suited to the particular tree. This could have to do with peak flowering or fruiting times when the main reason for planting that tree was to enjoy its flowers or fruit. Factors for other trees include “bleeding” and how you want the tree to look.
- If a tree flowers or produces fruit before summer starts, then the time for pruning is immediately after flowering. Spring-flowering buds start developing in the previous season, and pruning before bloom means you lose the new season’s flowers. This does not mean you lose the tree, but you do miss the flowers that season, and if those flowers are your favorite thing about the tree, you’re going to be disappointed. Therefore, pruning after they bloom but before the new buds start developing is key. (All this applies to fruits, too.)
- Summer-flowering and fruiting trees should be pruned in winter or early spring because new buds develop in the spring, and so pruning must be done before the new growth starts.
- Some trees can be pruned both before and after they produce flowers. Increased flowers and sometimes even an extra bloom that season can be the result of pruning these trees more than once.
- For trees planted for reasons other than their flowers or fruit, pruning is best in early spring before the new growth starts. Pruning causes wounds to the tree, and you want to give the tree the time it needs to heal. If you don’t, i.
- Whenever there are dead, diseased, or damaged branches, pruning should take place immediately to eliminate the risk of their breaking and falling, which can be a threat to property and human life.
- Pruning causes “bleeding” in some trees; this is a heavy sap flow where the tree has been cut. Knowing when a tree produces sap most heavily can inform a decision about when to prune to keep sap off cars and people. The sap is always a concern with evergreens, but there are deciduous trees like maples, birches, dogwoods, and elms that produce great amounts of sap in the spring, so pruning them in midsummer or fall is better.
- With conifers, there is a decision to keep them compact or not. To keep them compact, prune in late spring as the branches are growing but before they have become stiff. Otherwise, prune anytime the wood isn’t frozen.
How To Prune Trees Properly
There are three basic methods of pruning trees:
- Pinching– Pinching is removing growth points at the end of a stem. This technique is often done by hand and controls size. It is mostly applicable to shrubs but can work with new trees and small ones.
- Thinning– Thinning is removing entire selected branches. It is important not to cut to the trunk, which can allow infections to enter. Thinning reduces overcrowding and addresses dense but weak growth. It also refers to removing dead and diseased branches and limbs. Depending on the tree’s age, cuts should be half an inch to two inches from the trunk.
- Reduction– Here, you are cutting back the length of branches. Make sure there is enough stub above a bud so that the stub can’t die back and take the bud as well, but also don’t leave too much of a stub. Cutting a quarter of an inch above a bud is recommended.
Newly planted trees and large, old ones come with some special considerations. It used to be conventional wisdom not to prune young trees, but that has changed, and now experts recommend early pruning to help growth get off to a good start. However, you don’t want to overdo it.
The branches of large trees sometimes grow against houses or power lines, and low-hanging branches they have may endanger people or present obstacles for pedestrians, lawn workers, and others. You can often manage low-hanging branches and branches growing against a house on your own, but if you don’t have the tools for it, call a professional. Never try to prune branches growing against a power line on your own. Immediately notify the power company instead.
Tools and Safety
Having the right tools is critical. Here are some tips and some safety advice:
- Scissor-style hand pruners are easy to use, and they cut without crushing and bruising plant tissue.
- Lopping shears are good on stems and branches up to 1.5 inches in diameter. They allow you to prune what is difficult or impossible for a hand pruner.
- Pruning saws work for branches larger than an inch in diameter.
- Hedge shears are just that– for hedges. They are not for general pruning.
- Chainsaws are dangerous as pruning tools because they can be difficult to control and the consequences to the user can be disastrous. Better use of a chainsaw is for cutting up limbs that are already on the ground. If a storm breaks a large limb and sends it down, that’s when a chainsaw is helpful. Whenever a pruning job might call for use of a chainsaw, it is best to call a professional.
- Wear gloves to help protect your hands.
- Use eye protection when pruning in close quarters.
- Always wear closed, solid shoes as protection against dropped tools.
- If you are for any reason not sure you can do the task properly and safely, consult with an expert.
Quality Professional Service
Pruning trees helps maintain their health and beauty, but even with proper knowledge and tools, it can be a lot of work, and in some instances, it can be dangerous. Then there is the additional task of cutting up and disposing of what you have pruned. Why not have the pros manage all of this for you?
Sharp Lawn Care includes selective pruning with our Landscape Maintenance services, which also include weed removal, replacing displaced rocks and mulch, and picking up trash on the property. We are experienced and credentialed, and we will do the job right. If you’d like to learn more about the services we provide and how we can make lawn care much easier on you, contact us for a free quote!