Video | Planning to Prune? Use this simple framework and avoid deadly mistakes.
Follow this simple framework to set pruning goals and prevent deadly damage to your trees and shrubs.
Hi, my name is Basil. I'm a Treecologist here at Leaf & Limb and I want to talk to you today about pruning. It's a very deep topic. There's lots to learn and there's always a lot of confusion around the topic, but we can simplify this into a simple framework: why what how and when.
So first is the why. Anytime you make a pruning cut, you need a reason for making the cut. What are you trying to achieve What will be the outcome of this cut? How might the tree react? There needs to be purpose behind the cut.
Then there's a how. How is using proper cutting methodology for most pruning cuts on a tree? we're gonna use something called the three cut method. The three cut method helps you make proper cuts in the locations where trees can actually heal. If you cut anywhere else you risk killing the tree.
And then there's the when. Timing is important. We can breakdown timing into just some very simple concepts. Winter is pretty much the best time to prune. Spring when sap rising is often the worst time to prune, if we want to maximize our flowers, we don't prune until after the flowers and blooms, and if we wanna maximize something like fruit production, then we wanna prune before flower production and we want to minimize the number of potential flowers that can turn into fruit.
Let's go through a couple of scenarios here. I wanna start off with an ideal scenario. You have a young tree. It's been planted recently say within the last five years and you need to give this tree a framework with which it can be healthy and structurally sound later in its life. So let's talk about the why: it's future health and stability. Let's talk about the what: so I recommend that first, you determine what sort of form this tree is gonna have.These typically fall into two scenarios. You'll have trees with strong central trunks, think of a pine tree, and then we have trees that have spreading forms, think of an oak tree or cherry tree.
So once you determine the form, that will help us determine how best to create structure. So for something that has a strong Central form, we want to give the tree good branch spacing evenly distributed around the trunk so that each branch has space to grow as it becomes larger and you get. A good strong stable form over the coming 30 to 300 years, depending on the species.
This is gonna be different for a tree with a flowing form. We're gonna have different objectives. We may be looking to enhance say four of the main leaders or we wanna enhance a cool zigzag form on on this cherry tree, for example, it's going to be a little different.
Another thing you can think about under the what category and this applies generally the trees, but especially in this category of these young trees. Once we’ve Got it our big why you know we're creating structure for future and health for future. Then you can get into some of the more nitty gritty: are they're dead branches that need to come off. Are there disease branches that need to be pruned or there branches growing right into the house? Do you wanna get it off of a stop sign. There are a lot of secondary and tertiary why’s that can help influence your what's and your how's.
I’m gonna use this as a Segway into my second scenario, which is utility pruning or maintenance pruning This idea of sometimes we just need trees off houses and off signs so our why category here we need to be able to see our street signs. We need to protect the siding on our house. We need to protect the shingles in our roof. The what then is things like: let's make sure we prune all branches six feet off of buildings. Let’s clear up a hole, so we can see the stop sign, let's raise the branches up 15 feet so that FedEx truck can drive past, so here the How's and the When's are still the same, but in terms of the execution we need to take as little as possible. So if you need achieve 15 feet clearance: first, we've got to determine can the tree with stand this? If yes, then take just the amount needed and no more. We want to put this tree under as little stress as possible. My rule of thumb with large trees never prune more than 10 percent. Five to 10 percent is the range you'll do; if they are dead branches, do as many as you want. It doesn't affect the health of the tree, but if you’re cutting live growth, keep it under five to 10 percent. And keep the branches small. If you want it off of your House cut the ends of the branch don't cut the whole 10 inch trunk.
There is a vast world of pruning. You can buy entire books on the topic and there's many that I recommend by Ed Gilman - I mentioned him earlier. Cass Turnbull, she wrote an excellent book. There's many out there, but the thing to take away from today. What is your why your what? When are you going prune and how will you prune? These are the big important things to take away.
If you'd like to learn more, we have all sorts of great articles and videos on our website and YouTube channel. We'd love for you to have a look.