Pruning and Removing Trees

By: GeraldJenkins

Pruning Trees

Pruning, the most commonly used tree maintenance method, is the best. While natural forest trees can thrive in their own gardens, trees that are planted in their own backyards require extra care to ensure their structural integrity as well as aesthetics. Tree biology must be understood before pruning. Proper pruning can cause permanent damage to a tree or reduce its life expectancy.

Small trees and shrubs such as fruit trees can often be managed easily by the homeowner. Our Tree Care Information page will provide more information about how to prune.

Pruning and removing larger trees can be dangerous. This involves heavy equipment and dangerous structures. These activities should be done by an arborist who is qualified, insured, and competent.

A professional arborist consultant can offer advice about trees on your property. If your tree is not in need of pruning or removal, it will be preserved and saved money.

A permit may be required to cut down or remove trees in many areas, especially if they are large or of a native species. You can check with your local council to find out if there are any restrictions in your area.

Every cut can affect the growth of the tree and should not be taken without a reason. There are three main reasons to prune: to remove dead branches; to improve form or reduce risk. Trees may be pruned in order to allow more light and air to reach the interior of the tree’s crown, or to the ground below. As routine thinning is not likely to improve a tree’s health, most mature trees will be pruned to correct or preventive measures.

When to prune

Routine pruning to remove diseased, dead, or weak limbs can be done anytime during the year. There is little impact on trees. If pruning is done before spring’s flush, it will maximize growth and wound closing.

Some tree diseases can spread through pruning wounds that allow for the entry of pathogens (disease-causing agent). Active disease transmission is a time when susceptible trees should not have their branches pruned.

Pruning Techniques

To maintain mature trees in a safe, healthy and attractive state, you may need to use certain types of pruning.

Cleaning is the process of removing dead, dying, or diseased branches from the crowns of trees.

Thinning refers to selective branch removal in order to improve structure and allow for more light penetration. Properly thinning allows the trees to breathe, and reduces their weight. It also helps preserve the trees natural shape.

Raising involves removing the lower branches of a tree in order to clear space for pedestrians, vehicles and buildings.

Reduced size is used to reduce a tree’s height, usually for utility line vegetation control. Reduced height and spread of a tree can be achieved by reducing the leader and terminal branches to secondary branches large enough to take over the terminal roles (minimum one-third of the cut stem). Pruning the tree in a proper manner is important to preserve its form and structural integrity.

Pruning Young Trees

Pruning is key to ensuring a tree has a strong structure. Trees that are given the correct pruning care when young will require less corrections as they age.

It is important to establish a strong structure of primary branches while the tree’s young. These branches, also known as scaffold branches, form the framework for a mature tree. As they age, properly trained young trees will create a strong structure that needs less maintenance. Young trees tend to have one dominant leader, which is the main branch that rises. You should not trim the tip of the main leader, nor allow secondary branches to grow above it.

Pruning Palms

Pruning palms is done mainly to remove dying fronds or flowering/fruiting clusters. Pruning is typically done every two years. Coconuts can be pruned as frequently as every 3-4 weeks to reduce the chance of injury from heavy fruit falling. It is essential to remove fronds with care so as to not cause damage to the trunk or terminal buds of the palm.

Green fronds should be left intact. This is better for the palm. Overpruned plants can slow down growth and attract insects. Avoid using climbing spikes to prune palms because they can wound the trunk.

Trees are not to be topped!

The most hazardous tree pruning practice is ‘topping’. Despite more than 25 years’ worth of literature and seminars about its dangerous effects, topping continues to be a popular practice.

Topping refers the indiscriminate trimming of tree branches to stubs and lateral branches that is not sufficient to take on the terminal role. Topping can also be called: ‘lopping’ (heading), ‘tipping’ (tipping), and rounding-over’.

Alternatives to Topping

Sometimes trees must be reduced in height and spread to provide utility line clearance. There are several methods that can be used to accomplish this. It is best to remove small branches back at their source. If you have to reduce a larger branch, cut it to a lateral that is at least one-third of its original diameter. This method preserves the natural shape of the tree.