Good time to prune trees, but do it right | Dennis Thompkins

February through April is the traditional time for pruning fruit trees. Winter is also a good time to work on ornamental trees because it is easier to determine what needs to be pruned before new leaves begin to grow.

  • Friday, February 19, 2016 6:16pm
  • Life

February through April is the traditional time for pruning fruit trees. Winter is also a good time to work on ornamental trees because it is easier to determine what needs to be pruned before new leaves begin to grow.

There are three major items to consider when planning your spring tree work: first, fruit trees will benefit from pruning to enhance fruit production; second, pruning ornamental trees is completely different from pruning fruit trees; and third, if hiring someone to do the work, choose a reputable tree service or a professional arborist.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of well-meaning folks who do not possess the knowledge of proper pruning techniques, particularly for ornamental trees.

Fruit Trees

If they have been pruned on a regular basis, they have developed numerous water sprouts. As a general rule, one-third or more can be thinned out. Most of the remaining sprouts should be shortened to 4 to 10 inches. If all sprouts are removed, fruit production will be reduced.

Careful thinning and pruning will help control the size of a tree and make the fruit more reachable.

Treat Ornamental Trees Gently

Severe topping or aggressive pruning of any ornamental tree should be avoided to maintain its natural shape. Not only is it ugly, but it usually stimulates the production of water sprouts as a survival response. Most trees will attempt to replenish the lost food-manufacturing branches and leaves as fast as possible. These rapidly-growing sprouts can grow up to 5 feet or more a year. The massive number may require frequent work by maintenance crews that could have been avoided by proper thinning and pruning.

Responsible tree services and certified arborists will discourage tree topping. The key to successful ornamental pruning is to have the final result look as if very little has been done to a tree.

Overgrown Trees

A frequent complaint is that a tree is getting too big. If a tree is too wide or tall for its space, there are at least two options.

• Carefully select some of the longer, unsightly branches. Either cut them back to where they join a larger branch or the main trunk or lightly trim them back to a shorter length.

• Remove the tree and plant one that will grow to fill, not overcrowd, a chosen space. This is preferable to doing a severe pruning job. Be aware that the height estimates on nursery labels are often conservative since they may infer that a tree will stop growing at a specific height. Not true!

Do the Right Thing

I often ask a homeowner what he or she wants a tree to look like. Sometimes I have to explain why their request may not be practical or healthy for a tree and we will discuss some options. This should be the approach of any knowledgeable and responsible tree pruner.

Sometimes a homeowner will tell me to “do what I think needs to be done.” This can be a dangerous instruction to give because some tree pruners do not know the correct way to treat ornamental trees. The results may be painful to look at. And it might be even more painful to write a check.

I always insist that a homeowner be present during a job. That way he or she can immediately approve or express concerns of the work in progress and be available to ask or answer questions.

Doing the right thing will result in happy trees, a happy homeowner and enhance the reputations of responsible tree services and arborists. A poor job is very noticeable and neighbors and passersby will wonder what the heck a homeowner or business is trying to do to its trees.

Dennis Tompkins, a Bonney Lake resident, is an ISA certified arborist and ISA qualified tree risk assessor. He provides small-tree pruning, pest diagnosis, hazard tree evaluations, tree appraisals and other services for homeowners. Contact him at 253 863-7469 or email at Website:


More in Life

While focusing on athletic endurance, this book also relates to everyday life

You need a shave. It’s been awhile and, though you’ve been grooming… Continue reading

Explores the Civil Rights Movement with Congressman John Lewis | Pierce County READS

Congressman Lewis of Georgia is one of the key figures of the Civil Rights Movement and the only remaining speaker alive from the Big Six Leaders that organized the 1963 March on Washington.

We often believe bad things only happen to others

It could never happen to you. Other people have problems. They don’t… Continue reading

Enumclaw High hosts 7th annual Empty Bowls event

The event, held at Enumclaw High School, will help fund the Enumclaw Food Bank and Plateau Outreach Ministries.

Read the first two books before tackling ‘Banished’

Well, look at you. And you do — ten times a day,… Continue reading

Buckley Kiwanis names Students of the Month

For January, students from White River High School, Glacier Middle School and Carbonado Historical School District were chosen.

Local students named to WSU honor roll

Students from Black Diamond to Sumner found themselves on WSU’s President’s Honor Roll.

It may take time to sink into but ‘How to Stop Time’ is worth the read

The big hand is on the “12.” And the little hand is,… Continue reading

Breakfast for the Birds coming Feb. 21

Celebrate the coming of spring with breakfast, fun hats and Ciscoe Morris.

With help from ‘The Grumpy Gardener,’ you can prepare for spring | The Bookworm

Normally, you’d never allow it. Holes in your yard? No way! Trenches… Continue reading

How to keep The Courier-Herald visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections, and you might see less news. Here’s how you can fix that.

A small act of kindness can make a big impact | SoHaPP

Join SoHaPP’s book group this February to discuss “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. Don’t have the book? Check it out at the Enumclaw Library or visit The Sequel.