Hopefully, we can put the sandbags and snow shovels away and turn our attention to other tasks around the house – such as our landscapes. Yes, pruning season is upon us. So it is time to break out the pruners, saws and first aid kits.
There are three major considerations when planning what to do to your landscape trees.
First, fruit trees need pruning to enhance fruit production.
Second, pruning ornamental trees is completely different from that of pruning fruit trees.
Third, if hiring someone to do the work, choose a reputable tree service or a professional arborist. Beware of the knock on the door by a solicitor offering “cheap pruning” which often means “tree butchering.”
February through April is the traditional time for pruning fruit trees. If they have been pruned in recent years, they have developed numerous water sprouts. As a general rule, around one-third or more can be thinned out. Most of the remaining sprouts should be shortened to four to ten inches.
This treatment will concentrate most of a tree’s energy into producing fruit on fewer branches rather than dispersing it throughout numerous untrimmed sprouts.
Warning! If all the sprouts are removed, a tree will bear little or no fruit.
Treat Ornamental Trees Gently
Ideally, ornamentals such as cherries, flowering plums and others should be carefully thinned rather than being aggressively pruned or topped.
If a tree is too wide or tall for its space, there are at least two options:
• Carefully select some of the longer branches and either cut them back to where they join a larger branch or the main trunk or lightly trim them back to a shorter length.
• Remove the tree and plant one that will fill, not overcrowd, a chosen space. This is much preferable to doing a severe pruning job.
Remember, severe topping is not only ugly, but it makes a tree think someone is trying to kill it. Most trees respond to heavy topping by sending up fast-growing water sprouts to replenish the food manufacturing branches and leaves that have been removed.
These sprouts can grow up to 5 feet or more a year. Often a heavily topped tree will reach its original height in just two to three years. But there will be many more branches to deal with than before. Another consequence is that large cut surfaces will serve as entry points for decay organisms.
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 or shrub.
Do the Right Thing
If you are doing your own pruning, do your best to learn the proper techniques. If hiring it done, find out what the pruner plans to do. Is he or she on the same wavelength as you? Also request a list of references.
Before starting to work on an ornamental tree, I usually 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 by 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 to a stranger 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 encourage a homeowner to be present during a job. That way he or she can immediately approve of the work in progress or express concerns and be available to answer questions.
Doing the right thing will result in happy trees, a happy homeowner and enhance the reputations of responsible tree services and arborists. A poor job is very noticeable and your neighbors and passersby will wonder what the heck you are trying to do to your trees.
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. Web site: evergreenarborist.com.