Trees, so long as they're within your right to tend to, need regular pruning to keep them in shape and good health. It also minimizes the risk of falling branches. Good pruning, however, takes practice and must be conducted regularly so to help you out, we've outlined the basic dos and don'ts.
Tall trees require the use of pole pruners, instruments with greater reach and cutting tools on the head. Lower and smaller branches can be trimmed using standard pruning shears and knives. Even quality tools and a whole set of them don't serve much purpose, however, if you don't have at least some understanding of the practice. So, purchase books or visit the library for some reading before getting started.
• A rule of thumb is that the crown of a tree must not be trimmed more than a quarter inch per season. You may be tempted to apply this to every tree but assess its height and obstacles like power lines before going ahead. Shorter trees don't need to have their crowns trimmed unless they come in the way of wiring. In addition, trees with a pyramid growth form should not have their crowns trimmed. This can lead to stem wounds and cause decay.
• When cutting branches, make sure they're not attached to the stems. This can cause wounds and decay. Cutting only the branches will also help heal any minor wounds to stems more effectively.
• Keep in mind that pruning to shape trees is less important than pruning to remove dead branches and stems. Good form can always be attained but if stems decay, you'll have portions of dead foliage that will mar the overall appearance anyway.
• Cut small branches at an angle. Not steep and never straight. Choose a site that's about a quarter inch beyond the bud to allow it to grow outward.
• If you have a tree that's less than two years old, it's never too early to start pruning. In fact, pruning can be undertaken from the first year itself by trimming broken branches, branches swollen from insect eggs and those competing with the leader branch.
• Excessive branches in a spot should be thinned to prevent unbalanced distribution of sun, air and light. Know that branches, like animals and humans, compete for nutrients and it's important that the leader branch is given consideration. This allows for good form.
• Correct pruning techniques facilitate strength to withstand the lashes of storms and drought. Every season brings with it its own damaging results so at the turn of the season check the tree for broken and decayed branches.
There are four basic pruning cuts that can be applied to shrubs and trees. Each is done to achieve a specific result. Check them out below.
Heading cuts change the way subsequent branches, buds and leaves grow. The cut is made farther back on a shoot to encourage buds below the cut to grow densely.
Pinching isn't a cut but a literal pinch. This is done to terminal buds to prevent the shoot from growing long. It's an effective method to force stems and buds to grow in a certain direction.
Thinning controls excessive growth to compel branches of a tree to grow evenly. It's done on bulky branches and areas that have slow or minimal re-growth.
Shearing is done primarily to achieve a spherical form on shrubs. It encourages re-growth and must be done regularly.
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