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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: evergreen-arborist.com.