June is a good time to grab the pruners, gloves and first aid kits and launch into the summer pruning chores. By now, many landscape plants have put on most of their new growth.
Keep in mind that the most eye-pleasing pruning jobs are those that look as if little or nothing has been done. The temptation to aggressively top or prune trees should be suppressed in most instances. Unfortunately, the tree toppers have been busy for weeks and the eyesore results seem to be everywhere.
The following tips will help the do-it-yourself homeowners create natural-looking trees and shrubs without affecting their long-term health and safety.
First targets: Remove dead branches. They are easy to spot this time of the year. Many have or are being killed by the brown rot fungus that is so common on cherry and plum species.
Second targets: Remove branches that are crowding, pointing inward within a tree’s canopy or that look out of place. This includes low-growing “face-slappers” that terrorize lawn maintenance workers and homeowners.
Targeted branches should be cut back to the point where they join the main trunk or are attached to a larger branch. Do not leave stubs because they will die back and not heal over. Cuts that are made at the point of attachment will eventually be covered with bark.
Gentle tipping: If a branch is too long, make a cut just beyond a twig or bud that is pointing in the direction you wish the future growth to occur. Paying close attention to this detail will enable one to control the direction of the new growth. This technique will help a tree retain a natural look rather than develop a stubbed-off appearance.
Cutting larger branches: To avoid stripping bark or splitting branches more than 1 inch thick, make the first cut six or more inches out from the intended final cut. This will lighten the branch and allow for a clean cut when removing the remaining stub without tearing the bark.
Finessing Japanese Maples and Pines
Summer is a good time to remove dead wood and to thin the crowns to display the attractive twisting interior branches of Japanese maples. These branches form the “character” of a tree and are vividly displayed during the fall and winter after the leaves have fallen.
If possible, when pruning the low-growing lace leaf varieties, crawl underneath and prune from the inside out. First, snap off or cut the dead twigs. Then remove crossing interior branches that are growing against the natural flow of the foliage. Finally, continue to thin out smaller twigs that are crowding. This technique makes it easier to create openings that will display a tree’s exotic-looking features.
The same approach can be used on the upright growing varieties. Of course, you cannot sit down on this job.
Mid-June is a good time to shape low-growing conifers like mugho pines. When the new “candles” are nearly fully extended, they can be clipped by hand or by a hedge trimmer to create a sculpted look.
This timing will stimulate buds to form below the cut surfaces. Otherwise, such buds may not form and a stub will remain without producing numerous new small branches to fill in the canopy the next year.
Hiring Tree Pruners
I strongly recommend that homeowners be present during the work. Be certain to have a clear understanding of what you expect to be done. Ask for a demonstration. If the pruner fires up a hedge trimmer or chain saw with an eye on your favorite rhododendrons or small trees, consider hiring someone else.
Lawn service personnel are generally excellent at maintaining lawns and flower beds. However, many lack experience or supervision in applying proper pruning techniques to shrubs and trees. There are several certified arborists and other experienced professionals to consider for your pruning needs. Ask for references.
Taking the above precautions will reduce the chances of having to painfully write a check after discovering that your favorite tree has been reduced to stubs.