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Ornamental Tree Pruning



Pruning ornamentals is one of the most essential maintenance practices for trees and shrubs in the landscape. The objective of pruning is to produce strong, healthy, attractive plants. By understanding how, when and why to prune, and by following a few simple principles, this objective can be achieved.


A.  Three reasons to prune: Safety, Health, and Aesthetics.


1.  Safety: Involves removing hazardous branches or limbs that could cause injury to people, homes, power lines, or other landscape plants.


2.  Health: Involves removing dead, diseased stems and/or broken branches that can harbor health-damaging insects and diseases. Thinning trees will increase light penetration and air circulation. This not only helps the pruned plant against insect and disease, but surrounding plants such as perennials or turf grass under the tree.


3.  Aesthetics: Involves enhancing the natural form and character of trees. When done on a regular basis, a plants size and shape can be maintained without harming its natural form and beauty. Even young trees will require pruning to balance the top with the young, developing root system. Proper pruning can stimulate flowering and fruiting.


B.  Basic Pruning Techniques


1.  First, examine the trunk of the tree. The trunk flare should be plainly visible at soil level, and there should be no sprouts emerging from the flare, nor root suckers from the underground near the flare. If suckers are present, remove the soil to uncover the base of the sucker and cut it flush.


2.  Second, inspect the general area surrounding the tree for permanent obstructions such as walls or buildings, sidewalks, or other plants. Trees planted near streets or parking areas must not block driver visibility for oncoming traffic. These obstructions will determine the height of the lowest permanent branches. If there are no permanent obstructions, the lowest branches are usually determined by mowing equipment. If you want branches to remain low to the ground, we suggest eliminating grass and plants from under the entire canopy and applying mulch out to the drip line. This will create a no-mow zone and keep the mowing equipment from being near the tree and trunk.


3.  Third, examine the canopy of the tree. The first consideration for pruning the canopy is called the Five-D’s. The Five-D’s are: Dead, Dying, Diseased, Damaged, and Deformed. These branches can and should be removed from the tree at anytime.


A.  Dead branches are usually easy to identify. They are brown, brittle, and have flaking or no bark.


B.  Dying branches may be partially dead, usually at the tips, or they have discolored bark in the dying area.


C.  Diseased branches could have a variety of symptoms such as cankers (sunken portion) or discolored bark.


D.  Damaged branches could be broken or bent out of shape, have sections of badly scraped bark, or have sections with damage from insect chewing or egg-laying.


E.  Deformed braches fall into a broad category. The main problems could be double leaders, water sprouts, and crossing or rubbing branches.


Crabapple trees are notorious for having many of the Five-D’s when young and maturing. They are especially prone to multiple leaders, water sprouts, trunk sprouts, and root suckers.

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