By JOE LAMP’L
One of the primary reasons to prune tree limbs is to open the canopy of your landscape, allowing more sunlight to reach the grass and low growing shrubs. It also makes for a more balanced, aesthetically pleasing look.
However, there is a right and wrong way to prune those limbs. When done right, trees quickly recover but the wrong cut can create a snowball affect of negative consequences.
Three Step Approach
I suggest a three-step approach to pruning tree limbs. Make the first cut about one or two feet out from the tree trunk. This cut starts on the underside of the limb and goes into it, but only about half way. This is a very important step in the process.
The second cut is out beyond the first cut another foot or two. This cut goes down and all the way through the branch. The branch is likely to break away as you make your way through the limb. Because you’ve already made the first cut, the bark will not continue to tear down into the tree trunk.
Without the first cut, as the branch breaks away from the weight of the limb, any remaining parts of the tree (the attached and uncut bark) goes with it, tearing the bark from the tree as well. This creates a big potential problem, allowing a large open wound and entry point for pests and diseases.
The final cut is right at the branch collar where the branch meets the trunk. You’ll notice a flared area here. Make the final cut so that the flair is just evident. If cut properly, this flair will heal over and eventually fill in with new bark or scar tissue. You’ll know the tree is healing properly when you notice what looks like a doughnut forming where you made the cut.
The best time to remove tree limbs is in late fall through late winter (during its dormant season). Disease pathogens are inactive and therefore not a serious risk to damaging your trees. However, a fresh cut or wound during the warmer months can be an easy entry point for diseases and pests.
Be aware that there are some trees that “bleed” excessively when cut. This is sap oozing from the fresh cut. Although it looks serious and unsightly, it causes no harm. Some trees that are especially prone to bleeding include beech, birch, elm, maple and yellowwood.
You may be inclined to dress fresh cuts or wounds with tree paint or wound dressing, sold and marketed as such. My suggestion is that it is rarely necessary and most of the time actually slows down the natural healing process. Trees are amazing at adapting to adverse conditions so my advice is to make a clean cut and leave it alone.
Pruning tree limbs can be a great improvement to the look and health of your total landscape if you follow the guidelines mentioned above. Taking shortcuts or pruning at the wrong time can lead to more problems later.