Proper pruning enhances the beauty of almost any landscape tree and shrub, while improper pruning can ruin or greatly reduce its landscape potential.  In most cases, it is better not to prune than to do it incorrectly.  By using improper pruning methods healthy plants are often weakened or deformed.

Pruning, like any other skill, requires knowing what you are doing to achieve success.  More trees are killed or ruined each year from improper pruning than by pests.  Remember that pruning is the removal or reduction of certain plant parts that are not required, that are no longer effective or that are of no use to the plant.  It is done to supply additional energy for the development of flowers, fruits and limbs that remain on the plant.  Pruning, which has several definitions, essentially involves removing plant parts to improve the health, landscape effect or value of the plant.

Have in mind a definite idea of your objective before you start.  Never start a job too big for you.  Hire a professional tree man who has the proper equipment and skills to do the job properly.  For most homeowners, the pruning of shade trees should be limited to the removal of branches which can be reached from the ground or a ladder.  Watch for high powered electrical lines which can be deadly to you if accidentally touched.  Never leave short stubs when a branch is cut.  The pruning cut should be flush with the trunk or branch from the bottom to the top of the cut.  A dead stub left on the tree will increase decay down into the tree causing premature death.  By thinning out a branch, it is cut off at its point or origin.  This method of pruning is the least conspicuous and conforms to the tree’s natural branching habit.  Thinning-out results in a more open tree which can tolerate more wind and ice.

Topping or severe heading back  is not advised.  It weakens trees.  It causes extreme invigoration near the cut portion of the limb.  Multiple new shoots may arise from this area and grow 3-4 feet in a single season.  In subsequent growing years these shoots criss-cross and form dense canopies which cannot handle lots of wind or ice.  The shade produced by this canopy is often dense enough to prohibit turfgrass establishment below the tree.  Thinning-out instead of topping eliminates these problems.

The following list will help determine plant parts that need to be removed:

  1. Dead, dying and unsightly limbs.
  2. Sprouts near the base of the trunk.
  3. Branches that cross and/or rub together
  4. V-shaped crotches that are weak and easily split in wind and ice storms.
  5. Multiple trunks on traditional single trunked specimens (pines, pecans, poplars). This must be done when the tree is young.
  6. Nuisance growth that is a traffic hazard, interferes with power lines or excessively shades the grass.
  7. Never remove more than 1/3 of canopy when pruning. Only do severe Pruning during the dormant season.
  1. Prune only dead, dying or nuisance growth during the growing season. Light

Thinning can be tolerated.

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