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Don't Make a Deadly Mistake: Top 10 Questions to Consider Before Pruning

Improper pruning cuts cause irreversible harm that often results in decline in health, structural instability, or death.

Before you pick up your pruning shears, it is essential to have a goal in mind. Proper pruning will help maintain a tree’s health and beauty, but if you prune for no reason, you could accidentally cause more harm than good.

Here are the top 10 questions to ask yourself before you prune:

Is it the right time of year?

The best time of year to prune is during the winter or the dormant season. Spring, when the sap is rising, is the worst time to prune. It is okay to remove dead branches or do light pruning any time of the year.

What is my goal?

At Leaf & Limb, our underlying goal with pruning is to maintain the health and beauty of the plant. There are many additonal reasons why we prune: maximizing fruit production, keeping trees away from utility lines, or simply removing dead branches. Once you have a goal in mind, everything else falls into place.

Do I have sharp tools?

It is essential to have sharp tools. Dull pruners or loppers not only cause more damage, but they also slow down the task at hand. Good clean pruning cuts are essential to the healing process of the plant.

Do I know how to make a proper pruning cut?

When pruning branches, use the 3-cut method. The first cut is just a notch on the underside of the branch to prevent the bark from peeling down the trunk. The second cut removes most of the branch and should be further away from the trunk than the first cut. The third cut is the most precise. This cut should be made as close to the branch collar as possible while still leaving the branch collar intact and undamaged.

Do I know where to make a proper pruning cut?

All cuts should be made just outside of the branch collar without damaging the collar. Cutting in the right location reduces the amount of disease and decay that can be introduced during pruning.

How much should I remove?

Ideally, you'll remove the least amount possible to achieve your goal. This is one of the most important reasons to have a goal. If you prune too extensively, it can cause irreparable damage to the plant. It also varies depending on the age and health of the tree. For example, if it's a young tree, follow the 1/3 rule: don’t remove more than 1/3 of the crown of a plant during a single growing season. The older the trees, the more conservative you should be with removal; usually, no more than 10%.

Do I know the growth pattern of the tree?

It is important to create an excellent structural foundation when the tree or shrub is young so that you don’t have to remove larger branches, and therefore, create a larger wound when the tree or shrub is more mature. This means you need to know how the tree grows and how it will react to pruning cuts.

If it is a flowering plant, when did it bloom last?

It is vital to understand not just the growth pattern of a plant, but also its growth cycle. Not all plants bloom in the spring, some bloom in the winter. If you prune at the wrong time of year, there is a chance you'll accidentally remove buds or cause unintended growth. If you want to maximize blooms, prune immediately after the plant flowers.

Are there any dead branches?

When you're pruning, be on the lookout for dead branches. Because these branches are dead, removing them causes no harm to the plant and can be done during any time of the year. They also don't count towards the total percentage of plant material removed.

When should I stop?

It is essential to know how much pruning the tree or shrub can handle. Like we mentioned above, if it's a young, healthy tree, it can be up to 30% of the crown. Older trees can only withstand about 10%. Do not go beyond this limit, or you will damage the plant. This means that it will sometimes take more than one growing season to achieve your original goal.

These questions are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to pruning. It takes years of practice and studying to master the art of pruning.

However, starting with these questions will help to prevent significant damage to your trees and shrubs.

If you have any questions about pruning or need help with pruning, send us a message.

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