Respecting the annual tree cycle growth is one of the first steps in ensuring their vigor and keeping them safe and attractive as they mature. From spring to late summer and into the fall, woody ornamentals are actively growing. They enjoy vigorous growth after a restful winter dormancy period, but more importantly, they are well-stocked with carbohydrate fuel from the previous year.
Trees are like most other plants. They want to survive and thrive, but they need the help of skilled arborists to maximize their ornamental character. Experience is always helpful, but you’ll discover in this article that a basic understanding of plant biology will equip you to give your plants the timely care they need.
#1. Start With The Fundamentals
Pruning woody shade and ornamental trees is relatively simple if you know a few fundamentals. Always prune above a healthy bud from which new growth will emerge. If a branch is broken, diseased, or otherwise declining, move down the stem to the first healthy bud and prune just above it.
When pruning more mature limbs on a major branch or the trunk, prune just above what is known as the branch collar. This is the point where the bark can close over the cut to close off the wound and merge it with the surrounding bark. Certified Arborists are skilled at identifying branch collars, regardless of the tree species. For homeowners, it’s best to perform an internet search to review a few images to be sure.
#2. Train And Support Younger Trees
When young saplings are planted in a nursery, they are no more than whips, single stems with a root system that must be supported with a stake until they mature. After a few years, a splint or small stake is taped to one of the uppermost central branches to train it to be the leader. Looking closely, you’ll often see evidence of these stakes when buying trees.
The easiest time to train trees is when they are young and pliable. In addition to training leaders, it is recommended to remove lower branches to “limb up” the tree to the desired height. This is a gradual process that is done over a period of years. Lower limbs are successively removed as the tree gets stronger, typically to a height of 5 or 6 feet for shade trees to allow for planting foundation plantings beneath them.
#3. Shape Trees For Their Environment
Hand pruning to encourage the desired shape is a rewarding practice for those of us who enjoy pruning. This is an opportunity to encourage either spreading or upright growth, and it’s amazing how much you can influence a tree’s growth habit with this over time.
In urban or suburban environments where space is tight, tipping is frequently employed to limit the breadth of a tree. You simply look for upward-facing buds are lower, younger branches and prune just above that bud. The new growth that emerges from that bud will then take that upward path. You can do the same to achieve more spreading growth with buds that are more horizontal.
When pruning is performed after deciduous leaves have fallen, it is known as dormant pruning. You may notice tree care firms doing this in early spring or winter when the temperatures are unusually warm. If you try this yourself, be sure temperatures have been above 40 for several days, otherwise, you’ll injure tissues and encourage disease
#4. Prune for Strong, Balanced Growth
Keeping trees healthy in their environment, and making them attractive and safe for people, is the primary purpose of pruning. When a tree’s crown is balanced it can better support vigorous growth. If the tree is located in an urban or suburban environment, it may be subject to excessive winds. It’s vital to prune the crown to allow strong winds to pass through more readily.
In addition to heavy snowfalls, freezing rain can place significant stress on juvenile branches. In most circumstances, they will bend to accommodate the extra load without breaking, provided the newer growth is checked for balance in late spring and then as winter approaches.
#5. Manage Suckers and Waterspouts
Suckers are fast-growing stems emerging from the base of the tree. Most people will prune them just above the soil or mulch level. The correct practice is to go a little deeper, usually a few inches below the surface, to prevent them from coming back or multiplying in subsequent years.
Watersprouts are often confused with suckers. If you search the internet for the term, you will realize that you have seen them before and may have mistaken them for suckers. They are unusual, fast-growing, young stems on more mature branches, but in an odd way that distinguishes them from normal branches.
The source of watersprouts is not always clear, but it’s usually the result of poor pruning practices. Simply cut them off at the base of their growth to remove them. Be diligent about removing them if they return and they will disappear over time.
#6. Safety Is Priority For Mature Trees
Trees more than 10 or 15 years old have established their predominant shape and branching structure. Rather than planning for future growth, pruning objectives are typically focused on preserving the tree’s current growth to minimize potential damage.
You should continue to inspect the tree for resilience against strong winds. If necessary, open up the crown to allow light to enter and wind to pass through more freely. Another practice is inspecting for weak crotches that may be prone to splitting in the event of heavy storms.
Branches that are joined at roughly a ninety-degree angle are the strongest. Branches with weak crotches have branches joined at a narrower angle that resembles a slingshot. If one of these branches is hanging such that it could damage a house during a storm, then you should hire a Certified Arborist to inspect it. He or she may recommend having it removed or braced with cables.
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