Ornamental tree pruning

By Larry Dowell

“They shall beat . . . their spears into pruning hooks.” Micah 4:3.

My uncle spied a dead limb in a tree close to the house. He fetched his ladder placed it against the limb and sawed off the limb between the trunk and the ladder. He suffered a broken hip in the fall. His technique was good, but his ladder placement was faulty. Tree pruning may be hazardous and care should be used in the process.

Winter is a good time for pruning. The leaves are off of the deciduous trees and the shape of the tree can be seen. The sap is not flowing in most trees and will not make a mess. Walnuts and maples are very leaky trees at all times of the year. I once pruned a limb from a walnut tree in late February and returned a week later to find the stub covered with ants and sap running down the trunk of the tree.

In order to prune, some basic equipment is necessary. One of my Christmas presents was new pruning shears. This is the tool that is required for pruning, and it should be of good quality. It will cut off limbs up to 1 inch in diameter. For larger limbs 1 to 2 inches long, lopping shears are handy to have. I like to use a 36-inch bow saw. Tools should be kept sharp to make smooth cuts and cleansed of sap and infectious material. Rubbing alcohol is a convenient agent for this purpose and is easy to obtain. Pruning higher limbs requires a sturdy ladder. For the very high limbs, a professional tree service should be called.

In considering the priorities in tree pruning, probably the first limb that you want to cut off is the one that smacked you in the face last summer. You will remember avoiding it or you may see a patch of uncut grass underneath the spot. Without leaves the limb is higher and not the threat it was, so you may need the step ladder to prune it, but you will appreciate its absence when it is time to mow you may wish to remove other low growing limbs to improve your vista.

The next attack is against any dead or broken limbs. These provide openings for disease, produce a hazard during windy weather, and should be carefully taken out. I had a friend who was pruning on the lower branches of a tree when a large, dead limb fell from higher up in the tree. He was knocked unconscious and had to have an ear sown back on. For higher and bigger limbs, a professional may need to be called.

Suckers may spring from the base of the trees. These can be removed at any time, but this is a good time to look for them and cut them off at the base. When the trees are dormant and bare is an opportune time to inspect the tree and decide which limbs need to be removed. Limbs that grow at too narrow an angle to the tree should be removed. They are a weak growth that will split off during wind or ice storms and can damage the tree. If you find a fork in the trunk, one side should be removed. Bark will grow in the split as the trunks separate and result in a weak and unsightly tree. Now is a good time to shape a young tree. Use caution in removing too much growth, as the tree needs the branches and their leave for nutrition.

A large cedar tree had grownup in our yard. It was difficult to mow around and a hiding place for predators, so I decided to prune off the lower limbs. With my long lopping shears, I battled my way into the truck and removed some of the smaller limbs. Using the bow saw, I cut underneath the larger limbs about 3 inches from the trunk. The next cut was from above and further away from the trunk, so that when the limb was cut through, it did not split. The third cut was from below the limb next to the trunk, and final cut was from about down to the third cut, creating a smooth surface that the tree will eventually cover over with new growth and bark. Smaller limbs that are removed with the pruning shears or the lopping shears were also cut as near to the trunk as was possible.

For some trees and limbs, it may be desirable to remove only the far end of the limb such as the one that hit you while or limb too close to the house. Select a place near to a branch to trim. For small limbs, seek a bud near the place you wish to cut and then angle the cut to leave the bud. This should remove most of the unwanted wood from the branch and not leave dead or decaying material that is unsightly or an opportunity for disease.

When the pruning task is complete, remove the limbs to a brush pile. Some of the larger limbs can be cut for fire wood. I prune and save the longer limbs for garden stakes or for brush arbors to protest tender plants. Leaves and tender shoots can be added to the compost. Dead and diseased limbs should be carefully burned on a tended fire when the wind is calm and the surrounding growth moist.

from the Master Gardener's Notebook, Marshfield Mail