Pruning Practices

Proper pruning practices lead to longterm tree health.

Learning how to properly prune is one of the best investments you can make in the health of your forest. Whether you want to prune for aesthetic or structural purposes, fruit production, or storm damage recovery,  these pruning techniques will help you succeed in your goals. 

Why Prune?

Self-pruning happens in a mature, shaded forest. Pruning helps mimic this natural process before a forest has matured, or if a tree is not in a forest. Removing unwanted growth and dead or excessive stems will reduce the risk of disease and rot, while improving a tree's structural integrity and appearance. Trees that are pruned grow taller, live longer and push the canopy higher. A healthy tree will produce seeds for years to come. Proper pruning produces trees that are resilient and of greater economic value. Just by focusing on the essential trees in a stand, it’s possible to quickly improve the health of a forest. 

General Principles

Pruning should never damage or impair the health of a tree. To ensure the tree’s long-term health, it’s imperative to use proper technique and timing. Although pruning can be used to enhance a tree's appearance, it should not force a tree into confinement, either physically or aesthetically. 

Before pruning, consider the development stage of the tree, when it was pruned last, and what your objective is. Ideally you don't want to prune when there is foliage. The best time to prune is before the tree puts out leaves in the spring, or when it’s beginning to go dormant in the fall. A tree's energy is stored in the roots during the dormancy period. As the tree begins to sprout, the energy moves upward into the buds, and is then held in the leaves once they bloom. If you prune a tree in this stage, you are effectively cutting off its energy. If possible, start pruning when a tree is young to prevent risks or any structural concerns from developing in the future. 

The best time for pruning depends on the plant species and the desired outcome. Generally, pruning is done during the dormant season. Make sure to use clean, sharp tools to make precise cuts. Adequate watering helps the plant recover and thrive following the pruning process. 

How Trees Grow

In a mature forest a seedling begins its life in partial shade or dappled light. These conditions encourage the seedling to direct its energy upward toward the canopy. As it grows, the lower limbs are constantly self-pruned as they in turn are shaded by those above. Once it reaches the canopy, for the first time in its life, the tree is exposed to direct sunlight. This increase of light supports the growth of lateral branches. The tree ceases to grow in one upward push and begins to spread outward through thousands of buds, enabling it to grow significantly in volume. The result is a tree of immense proportion and vigor. It is a living example of why shade is so vital to the health of a forest. 

If a tree begins its life in a field, the pattern of growth will be different. Without shade, there is no need to grow upward. As soon as it sprouts, the seedling will begin to produce as many branches as possible. With so many leaves or needles, the tree will grow quickly. And as a result, face the same challenges the shade grown tree encountered upon reaching the canopy.


How to Prune

The first step is to locate the branch collar. The branch collar is the location where a branch will self-prune and contains all the tree’s natural defenses. You must be able to identify the branch collar to prune properly. 

The second step is to position the blade side of the pruner against the branch collar. This way you can use the collar as a guideline for your cut. A proper cut will not damage the collar or leave any wood extending beyond it. If too much wood is left or part of the collar is removed, the area will develop disease and rot. A properly pruned branch will heal quickly. 



How to Root Prune

Root pruning is used when needed to promote healthy growth and prevent issues such as circling and strangulation in potted or dug-up plants through proper root pruning techniques. Root Pruning causes a redistribution of hormones to induce new tip growth and a more robust root ball. 

It’s important to consider weather conditions when field root pruning. Less intrusive root pruning can be achieved with a shovel on overcast and rain days. To root prune, use the dripline of the tree to determine the circumference of the desired root ball. Use the spade to cut into the soil around the circumference of the plant, severing root. This will cause them to form a root ball as opposed to growing out laterally, making it suitable for transplanting.

Proper pruning techniques and equipment maintenance are essential for safe root pruning. 



An Illustrated Guide to Pruning can be found here.

See a PDF on Tree Pruning Essentials here.


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