Now that the fruit trees have been pruned and are beginning to excite you about the summer and fall harvests, it is time to think about the ornamental shrubs and trees. Most will complete their new growth between now and mid to late June. As a result, some of your landscape plants may need a summer haircut.
If hiring the work to be done, lawn maintenance 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 have observed many unfortunate results and unhappy homeowners.
I strongly recommend that a homeowner be present during any work if possible. Be certain to have a clear understanding of what you expect to be done. Even then, some crews cannot resist the temptation to fire up the hedge trimmers and make balls out of shrubs and small trees.
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.
If you are a do-it-yourselfer, the following tips will help to create natural-looking trees and shrubs. Keep in mind that the most eye-pleasing results appear as if little has been done as opposed to severely topped or otherwise butchered.
First targets: Dead and badly diseased branches are easy to spot this time of the year. If practical, removal of these should be among your first priorities.
Second targets: Remove branches that are crowding, pointing inward within a tree’s canopy or that 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. Plus, they are ugly. Cuts that are made at the point of attachment will eventually be covered with bark.
Gentle tipping: Sometimes a branch may be too long and shortening may bring a tree’s crown into a more eye-pleasing balance. Make a cut if possible just beyond a twig or bud that is pointing in the direction you wish future growth to occur so you can 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.
Be aware that over pruning will stimulate massive numbers of sprouts along trunks and branches on such trees as flowering plums. These may grow up to three or more feet per year. If a homeowner is so inspired, many that can be reached should be removed soon as possible while they are still small and tender. Sprouts that may eventually fill a void should be retained.
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 weight and allow for a clean cut when removing the remaining stub without tearing the bark.
Finessing lace leaf Japanese maples: 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 lace leaf maple 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.
So, get out the work gloves and sharpen the pruners and have fun with your summer pruning chores.
Dennis Tompkins is an ISA certified arborist, ISA qualified 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: evergreen-arborist.com.