The recent snow storms and subfreezing temperatures in the aftermath of Seahawk celebrations mask the fact that the spring pruning season will soon arrive.
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.
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 that do not possess the knowledge of proper pruning techniques.
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.
Careful pruning will help control the size of a tree and keep 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 the resulting water sprouts are a survival response as a tree attempts to replenish the lost food-manufacturing branches and leaves.
These fast growing sprouts can grow up to 5 feet or more a year. This may require frequent work by maintenance crews that could have been avoided by proper thinning and pruning.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature did a number on certain species like flowering plums during the January 2012 ice storm. The resulting masses of sprouts will provide challenges for the next few years. Proper thinning can help renovate many of these trees.
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.
If a tree is too wide or tall for its space, there are at least two options:
1 – 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.
2 – Remove the tree and plant one that will grow to fill, not overcrowd, a chosen space. This is much preferable to doing a severe pruning job. Be aware that the height estimates on nursery labels are often conservative.
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.
Dennis Tompkins, a Bonney Lake resident, is a certified arborist and certified 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.