Nature knows best, right? Well, sometimes she could use a little help. Pruning is done to control the growth of a plant for many reasons. Done right, pruning helps develop strong and aesthetically pleasing trees. This is best done on younger trees so they grow and hold the appropriate shape as they mature. Further, you might prune in order to encourage flower or fruit growth, maintain a hedge, control plant size, or create a special plant or garden form. And for health reasons, you should remove dead or dying branches affected by disease, insects, or weather conditions.

Pruning from the start is good practice of preventative maintenance. If not done right, it can be hard to rectify later on. Don’t alter a plant’s natural shape for no reason; great pruning is invisible rather than obvious.

Remember that every cut should have a purpose. Poor pruning can cause irreparable damage, so consider where and how to cut before picking up your shears or chainsaw. When you prune, you remove living material, and reduce a tree’s ability to feed itself – so overpruning will reduce its ability to grow. Once wounded, trees must seal over the wound; they don’t heal in the way human bodies do. When a branch is cut off it’s gone for good and does not regrow.

When to prune

As a rule, winter months are best for pruning. During this time, trees are growing very slowly or not at all. There will also be fewer leaves to obstruct your view.

Pruning during this time means any cuts will be exposed for a shorter time before spring growth kicks in.

Pruning during the other seasons increases the likelihood of infection, disease, drying and dieback in many types of trees.

Pruning shrubs and hedges

You may want to thin out shrub branches for equal spacing. Also prune any problematic roots, and any thick, overgrown old stems or trunks.

Hedges need regular upkeep. Once your hedge reaches the ideal height, prune back new growth twice a year to maintain their shape and size. Hedges should be thinner at the top than at the bottom for stability and in order to maximize sunlight distribution.

 

 

Pruning trees

Common tree pruning methods include:

Crown Thinning: pruning selected, usually weaker branches on young trees to increase light and air penetration.

Crown Raising: pruning the lower branches on trees to allow for more room above ground level. As trees mature, you may want to gradually prune away the lower branches and any branches located too closely together, and therefore raise the crown as its height increases.

Crown Reduction: pruning larger branches toward the top of the tree. These cuts should be as small as possible and branches should be removed immediately above lateral branches, leaving no stubs.  Crown reduction should only remove up to 25-30% of foliage at once. This differs from topping, whichrefers to the indiscriminate lopping of branches off the top of a tree and should be avoided. Tree topping is often done in a misguided attempt to manage tree size and control overall height or create a smaller rounded shape. But in fact, it exacerbates the problem, as the tree will grow more shoots rapidly in an attempt to replace the missing foliage, creating a vicious pruning cycle. It disfigures the trees and creates an unnatural look. In addition, it exposes the tree to disease and rot, and results in the growth of weaker limbs.

Before you begin, get to know the natural shape of the tree and how big it is likely to grow. Your first cuts should be made to remove diseased, broken or dead branches.

 

After that, prune with an eye to preserving and enhancing the tree’s natural shape. Stand back and observe the tree between cuts. Remove branches that cross over or rub against each other, and any competing leaders on trees where a single leading trunk is desirable.

Cuts should be clean and small, so that the tree can heal quickly. Position cuts just outside the ‘collar’, the slightly raised area just before the branch and trunk meet, but do not damage the collar itself.

To shorten a branch, trim it back to a side branch or cut slightly above the bud. Prune above the outside-facing bud to make the branch grow in that direction.

To remove large branches, you should make multiple cuts – starting from the underside, followed by a cut around the top, then cutting down through the branch to sever it.

Pruning cuts usually don’t need to be covered, but where they are, opt for latex rather than oil-based paint.

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