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The Basics of Tree Pruning

Pruning is the practice of trimming trees and shrubs to remove dead or damaged growth, encourage fruit production, improve airflow, reduce hazards, promote health, and enhance aesthetics. It is most often done during the dormant season of winter or spring, when the risk of disease and pest infestations in open wounds is lowest. Proper pruning techniques also help prevent water damage, which can lead to rot and other serious problems.

The first step in tree pruning is to remove any dead branches that have fallen during a storm or because of old age. This will eliminate a potential hazard and make it easier to see the rest of the work that needs to be done.

Next, prune out any branches that are obstructing your house or driveway, or that hang low and could fall and damage the roof or sidewalks. This can be done by either removing the entire branch, or simply cutting it back to its point of origin. If a branch is hanging over a pedestrian area, like a porch or sidewalk, it should be trimmed to 8 feet above the sidewalks and 14 feet above streets. This will protect the people using these areas, as well as the vehicles that pass by.

Large or heavy branches that you are removing should be shortened to a 6-inch stub with two successive pruning cuts. This is to avoid tearing and ripping the bark as the branch comes free, which can lead to rotting in the future. The first cut should be made on the underside of the stub, about a foot and a half from the base of the trunk. The second cut should be made about an inch farther out from the first cut. This is to ensure that you are not cutting into the conductive zone, which is the protective barrier around the base of the trunk that inhibits the spread of pathogens from one side of the tree to the other.

When removing any large or heavy branch, it is important to locate the branch collar before making the final pruning cut. This is the swollen, circular area on the trunk just beyond the root flare, and can be a little more difficult to spot on some species than others. The branch collar is necessary for proper wound closure, and if it is injured during the pruning process, it can lead to rotting and insect infestations in the future.

Some trees, such as azaleas, rhododendrons, magnolias, and lilacs, should be pruned right after they bloom in late winter or early spring. This is because they flower on wood produced during that year. If this is not done, the flowers will be borne on previous year’s wood, which can cause them to look ragged and less desirable. Other trees, such as oaks and maples, should be pruned in the fall after they have finished their growth for the year. This allows them to grow a strong root system for the following year.

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