Tree pruning is much more than sawing off unwanted branches and limbs. Proper pruning enhances the beauty of almost any tree in your landscaping, but improper pruning can ruin or greatly reduce its landscape potential. Like any other skill, pruning requires knowing what you are doing to be successful. The idea that anyone with a saw can prune trees is not true! More trees are killed each year from improper pruning than by pests. In most cases, it is better to skip pruning altogether than to do it incorrectly.
So what exactly does pruning mean? It’s the removal or reduction of plant parts that are not required, are no longer effective, or are of no use to the plant. Essentially, pruning involves removing plant parts to improve the health, landscape effect, or value of the plant.
Some of the main reasons for pruning trees include:
- to maintain tree health
- to remove diseased or storm-damaged branches
- to thin the crown to allow new growth and better air circulation
- to reduce the height of the tree
- to remove obstructing lower branches
- to improve the quality of flowers, fruit, or foliage
- to shape a tree for design purposes
- to maintain structural integrity or stability in high winds
The first thing you should do is plan your approach to pruning. The best rule of thumb is “less is best” when pruning trees. Dramatic improvements can be made to a tree’s health and appearance with minor pruning done in the right places. As a rule, no more than 25% of the crown of the tree should ever be pruned. Pruning more than that risks fatally damaging your tree.
Making cuts in a specific order will reduce the total number of cuts. First, all dead, broken, diseased or problem limbs should be removed. Next, training cuts should be made in order to develop a desired shape or fill in any open areas. Finally, corrective prunings may be done to get rid of weak or narrow crotches and remove a less desirable center branch if double branches occur. It is often smart to hire a professional for your pruning jobs because they know how much to cut and where to make the cuts, because sometimes when homeowners get started cutting it’s hard to know when to stop!
When is the best time to prune your trees in the Houston area? The key to choosing the time to prune is this: do not prune at the convenience of the pruner, but at the time when it results in the least damage to the tree. The dormant season, late fall or winter or early spring, is ideal (although dead branches should be removed at any time.) Pruning during the dormant period minimizes sap loss and stress to the tree. It also minimizes the risk of fungus or insect infestation. Finally, in the case of deciduous trees, pruning when the leaves are off will give you a better idea of how your pruning will affect the shape of the tree. And remember, the least desirable time to prune is immediately after new growth begins. You don’t want to stunt the growth of your trees!
Once you’ve decided that your trees need pruning, your next decision should be whether to tackle the job yourself or hire professionals. There’s a lot to know about making cuts correctly to encourage rapid healing of wounds, dressing wounds appropriately, pruning shape and amount, training young trees versus mature trees, etc. In addition to the knowledge involved, safety is an important consideration. Large tree pruning may require climbing and heavy equipment, and even small trees can be dangerous if you don’t know how to correctly use the equipment. Whether you do the pruning yourself or hire someone else, the goal is to produce strong, healthy, and attractive trees. This objective can only be achieved by understanding how, when and why to prune, and by following the principles involved.