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Go GREEN: Get snippy with trees now
At last, summer is here! While the cool spring has slowed the new growth of many plants, shrubs and trees, now is a good 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 pruning would improve their appearance. Keep in mind that the most eye pleasing pruning results are those that look as if little or nothing has been done. The temptation to aggressively top trees should be suppressed because it often stimulates new growth and disfigures a tree.
The following tips will help do-it-yourself homeowners create natural-looking trees and shrubs without affecting their long term health and safety.
First targets: Remove dead and badly diseased branches. They are easy to spot this time of the year. For example, diseased branches infected with the brown rot fungus on cherry and plum species are highly visible.
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 or branches growing at strange angles.
Cutting larger branches: To avoid stripping bark or splitting branches that are more than an 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 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. 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. This timing will stimulate buds to form below the cut surfaces. Otherwise, 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. 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 supervision in applying proper pruning techniques to 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: evergreen-arborist.com.