This year’s pruning brings additional challenges | Evergreen Aborist

Summer pruning chores are facing extra challenges because of the severe damage from January’s ice and snow storm.

Most of the debris has been cleaned up. Many damaged trees and shrubs have been pruned in an attempt to repair disfigured canopies.

However, many homeowners are faced with branches that are drooping under the weight of the new leaves and massive sprouting that is occurring on species like flowering plums.

The following tips will help do-it-yourself homeowners address the storm damage and to create natural-looking trees and shrubs without affecting their long-term health and safety. Keep in mind that the most eye-pleasing results appear as if little has been done as opposed to severely topped or otherwise butchered trees.

First targets

Unfortunately, little can be done about the drooping branches on birch, flowering plums and other trees. Those that can be reached can be carefully pruned to reduce the weight in hopes they will partially straighten up.

Unreachable branches generally will not straighten up. Some may need to be removed, but caution is advised if such cutting will create a highly visible void in a canopy. Otherwise, remove dead and badly diseased branches when practical on undamaged landscape trees.

They are easy to spot this time of the year.

Second targets

Remove branches that are crowding, pointing inward within a tree’s canopy or look out of place. 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.

Storm-damaged flowering plums and other species are developing massive numbers of sprouts along trunks, branches and broken-off tips. These may grow up to 3 or more feet per year. Ideally, many that can be reached should be removed as soon as possible while they are still small and tender. Sprouts that may eventually fill a void should be retained.

Many severely damaged trees may never regain an eye-pleasing shape, so removal may become an option in 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 weight and allow for a clean cut when removing the remaining stub without tearing the bark.


Japanese Maples

Summer is a good time to remove dead wood and 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 this time of year, 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.

Hiring Tree Pruners

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.

I strongly recommend that a homeowner be present during any work. Be certain to have a clear understanding of what you expect to be done and what the intentions are of a hired crew.

There are several experienced arborists and other professionals available for your pruning needs. Ask for references from a potential individual or lawn or tree service being considered.

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 Website:

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