Tips on tree and shrub pruning

When it comes time to pruning a tree or shrub, knowing a few basic techniques about how to prune can help maintain a pleasing shape and protect your investment in your plant.

At this time of year, many homeowners are busy outside tending their lawns and gardens. However, trees and shrubs may also need some special care to maintain a pleasing shape and stay healthy-looking. Knowing a few basic tips about tree and shrub pruning practices can help homeowners achieve a more beautiful landscape.

Pruning is a maintenance practice that can be beneficial to a woody landscape plant when properly performed. However, some knowledge about the growth habit of a tree or shrub as well as how and when to prune are essential to avoid “butchering” its appearance. For example, tree and shrubs should be pruned at an early age rather than waiting until a plant is overgrown.

Keeping a tree or shrub’s size and shape under control from the start is much better to both its health and aesthetic appearance. In essence, a well-done pruning job maintains a plant’s natural shape, while the necessary removal of dead or diseased branches or other undesirable growth is performed.

Using the proper equipment is also necessary to achieve optimum results while pruning. At a minimum, a homeowner should own a set of hand-held pruning shears, a long-handled lopping shears, a hedge shears and a pruning saw. Although expensive, a pole saw or loppers is also very useful for pruning tree branches safely from the ground. With this assortment of tools, a homeowner can tackle almost any pruning job he or she may encounter except for large limbs or tall trees. It’s also important to keep pruning equipment sharp to make smooth cuts that encourage rapid healing.

In regards to safety, it’s advisable to let a professional tree company prune tall trees or large diameter tree branches. These people have the skills and equipment to do the job properly and safely. Pruning limbs near electrical wires is another dangerous situation that may require expert help from a utility or tree service company.

Proper pruning also required knowledge of the growth habit of a particular tree or shrub for best results. For example, for spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, wait until after the shrub flowers in the spring before pruning. This will avoid removing flower buds that would reduce your enjoyment of its beauty that spring. Another common mistake made by homeowner is to prune hedges such as privet or yew leaving the bottom of the hedge narrower than the top. It’s actually better to keep the top trimmed back narrower than the bottom branches. This allows more sunlight to penetrate and avoids the bottom half of the hedge from becoming too shaded and causing the density of the foliage to thin out.

  • When is the best time to prune a tree or shrub? Probably the best time from the standpoint of the health of a plant is to prune in late winter or early spring just before new growth resumes for the year. However, there are exceptions depending on when a plant flowers or other characteristics (such as sap “bleeding” on maples) that may require pruning at other times of the year. In contrast, the least desirable time to prune a woody landscape plant is in the early summer immediately after new growth as developed. A homeowner should be able to choose a time to prune his or her trees and shrubs within these guidelines state above.
  • Here are some other pruning tips offered by Michigan State University (MSU) Extension:
  • When pruning trees and many shrubs, always make the cut near to where the branch originates on the trunk or main limb; never leave a stub. The exception to this, of course, is with pruning hedges which require a definitive shape.
  • Always remove dead, diseased or insect-infected branches first, followed by branches that are rubbing against one another. Also try and remove as many of the branches that are growing back into the center of the tree or shrub as possible. These branches will ultimately cross and rub against others.
  • Use the three-cut method for removing tree branches over one inch in diameter to avoid tearing the bark. By following this method, the weight of the branch is eliminated first before the final cut close to the trunk or limb is made.
  • Research has shown that the use of pruning paints are mainly cosmetic and are therefore optional to use. Homeowners may wish to seal large pruning cuts (more than two inches in diameter) only if the use of pruning paint helps blend the cut surface in the with the natural color of the bark.

Trees and shrubs help make a home more attractive and add value to your property. Proper maintenance, including occasional pruning, is necessary to keep plants thriving and helps to maintain their value and enjoyment to the homeowner.

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