Time to tackle pruning chores | Going Green

At last, summer is here! So it is time to grab the pruners, gloves and first aid kits and begin to plan summer pruning chores.

At last, summer is here!  So it is time to grab the pruners, gloves and first aid kits and begin to plan summer pruning chores.

Generally, landscape trees do not require pruning unless they are crowding other vegetation or buildings or light thinning would improve their appearance. Aggressive tree topping should be avoided because it usually stimulates new growth and disfigures a tree.

Remember that the most eye-pleasing results are those that look as if little pruning has been done.

The following tips will help the do-it-yourself homeowners to create natural looking trees and shrubs without affecting their long term health and safety.

First targets

Remove dead and diseased branches. They are easy to spot this time of the year. However, removal is not always practical from a heavily-diseased tree without virtually denuding it.

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 may die back or they may grow new sprouts. Cuts that are made at the point of attachment will eventually be covered with bark.

Trees like flowering plums damaged in the 2012 ice storm have sprouted prolifically. Homeowners can choose to ignore the masses of new branches or begin to thin them out to help a tree regain an eye pleasing appearance. This may require treatments for a few years.

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. This 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 or branches growing at strange angles.

Cutting larger branches:  To avoid stripping bark or splitting branches that are 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.

When pruning the low-growing lace leaf varieties, it is sometimes easier to 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 will display a tree’s exotic-looking features.

Mid-June is a good time to shape low-growing conifers like mugho pines. The new “candles” are nearly fully extended, so they can be clipped by hand to maintain a natural look or by a hedge trimmer to create a more sculpted look.


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. If the pruner fires up a hedge trimmer or chain saw with an eye on your favorite rhododendrons or small trees, hire someone else.

Lawn service personnel are generally excellent at maintaining lawns and flower beds. However, many lack experience or proper supervision when pruning shrubs and trees. There are several experienced arborists and other 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.


Dennis Tompkins is a certified arborist, certified hazard tree risk assessor, Master Gardener and urban forester from the Bonney Lake-Sumner area. He provides small tree pruning, pest diagnosis, hazardous tree evaluations, tree appraisals and other services for homeowners and businesses. Contact him at 253 863-7469 or email at dlt@blarg.net. Website: evergreen-arborist.com.

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