Archive | October, 2013

Introduction To Pruning Trees

19 Oct

by Constance Hedd

With the on-set of fall in the garden, we start to turn our attention to clean up time. Cutting back perennials, one last weeding, and of course pruning.  Although pruning trees may seem like a daunting task, the rewards come spring are worth it.

What To Cut

Should you prune for health or height?  When trees drop their leaves, they leave behind a naked skeleton and we can now see just what kind of makeover they need.

First, consider the tree’s health. Look for and remove the 3 D’s: Dead, Diseased, and Disorderly.

Dead: Remove any dead branches, theses will usually look shriveled and dried out.

Diseased: Look for strange growths, oozing wounds, and fungus. Cutting these out will minimize the spread of disease.

Disorderly: Disorderly branches are those that are damaged, cross or rub another branch, or grow toward the inside of the tree instead of away from it. Branches that cross and touch each other will rub during the winter winds, damaging the bark and leaving the tree susceptible to disease or die back. Branches that grow toward the center of the tree don’t get enough light, tend to be weak and lead to more crossing and rubbing.

Now that unhealthy branches are out of the way, you can consider taking down the height if you need to. Do you need to? We all dreams of what we want to be when we grow up…  So do trees. They have a natural height and shape. Trying to make a 40 foot spreading tree into a 20 foot narrow tree is a losing battle, leading to aggravation for all parties. The more you prune it, the more it will try to grow back to its original shape and height. In other words, only take off what is necessary.

If you are going to prune for height, be selective, take time to look at the shape of the tree, determine what branches need to be shortened. A general rule is to not take out more than one third of the tree’s branches in any one year.  Please note, If the tree you are tackling is of significant size, it is recommended to consult a certified arborist or professional tree company. To find a certified arborist in your area , checkout

Where To Cut

So you have decided what branches need to come out or be shortened. The next question is, how to make the cuts? Take a close look where branches sprout from. You will see a slight collar or ridge where one branch comes out from another. You need to make the cut just about this collar, at the same approximate angle. The collar is the part that will eventually callus over the cut you make. If you cut too far away from that collar, you will have a nasty stub and an entryway for disease.

What To Cut With

Small Branches:  For branches less than a half an inch diameter use basic by-pass pruners. These don’t have to be expensive. I have a couple of professional pairs that were a costly investment, but I like my $8.98 pair just as much. But be careful.  Make sure they are by-pass pruners, not anvil pruners. Anvil pruners have one sharp edge that cuts against a flat surface, I have never understood the purpose of those, they just make a mess of a cut.

Medium Branches: For branches over a half but less than one inch in diameter, you want a good pair of loppers. Theses are just long handled pruners. Don’t cheap out on these. The handles on poor quality loppers tend to break or split, especially if you try to cut too thick a branch

Large Branches: Anything you can’t cut with loppers (over 1 inch in diameter), you will need a pruning saw. Small foldable pruning saws are easy to use, you just need a little elbow grease, and you can end up with a good upper body workout.

How To Cut Large Branches

Knowing where to cut large branches can get a bit tricky. Don’t just start sawing away at a large branch. Long, heavy branches need to be shortened before you start making the final cut against the trunk. Heavy branches will bind against the saw as you cut and even if you do get through the cut, the bark on the lower side of the branch can tear down past where clean cut is supposed to be. So there is a technique to this.

Step 1: Find an accessible part of the branch. Saw a cut about 1 inch deep into the UNDERSIDE of the branch. This will prevent any bark from tearing down the rest of the branch.

Step 2: On the upper side of the branch, about half an inch from the under cut, start sawing through. The cut on the underside gives enough room for the branch to move away from where you are cutting so the saw doesn’t bind. Cut all the way through and let that chunk of branch fall.

Step 3:  Now you can make the final cut by the branch collar I spoke about earlier, without the weight of the branch causing problems and leading to a messy cut.

Take the time in the fall give your trees a little TLC, and come spring, they will reward with you with ample blossoms and make the hard work worthwhile!  If you have further questions, feel free to comment below and I would be happy to help you in any way I can.

Constance Hedd is a horticulturist from Langley, BC.  She’s a retail garden center manager at Devan Greenhouses Ltd, she also has a container and garden design company, Outdoor Decor and More, which specializes in unique custom container plantings.

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