Tree Trimming & Pruning
Reasons for pruning:
Removing hazardous dead limbs that can damage property or cause injury when they fall, promote new growth and tree health, control shape and aesthetic quality, increase strength by eliminating weak branches, improve your view for line of sight safety or curb appeal, reduce mold & mildew build up on roof and siding, branches rubbing on house or roof, and the most common reason, trimming branches away from your house helps prevent squirrels, mice and similar pests from getting into your house. Squirrels in your attic can trample the blown in insulation (which looses its value when compacted) and even chew insulation off wires causing a dangerous situation. This site has lots of good information about squirrels in your attic. We don’t do pest control but we can eliminate the path (tree limbs) they often use to enter.
Types of tree trimming and pruning:
Raising the canopy
This type of tree trimming is where only the lower limbs on a tree are removed. This is the most popular type of pruning. Below is a photo showing the benefit of raising the canopy on a tree. This tree was blocking the view of the house, overhanging the sidewalk, overpowering the landscaping. The after effect is increased curb appeal. Look honey we have a front door, landscaping and a bay window!
Crown or Canopy Cleaning
This type of tree trimming is removing only unhealthy branches. This is part of routine tree maintenance, all dead and diseased limbs are removed, limbs to close together or with attachment point to close together are removed.
Crown or Canopy Thinning
In crown thinning the first step is to perform crown cleaning and then go on to remove more branches with a focus on increasing aesthetics, improving light penetration, improving air flow, improving visibility or a combination of the above. It is not recommended to remove more than 25% of the trees foliage producing limbs in one year.
Crown or Canopy Reduction
Canopy reduction occurs where a tree has outgrown its environment and cannot continue to grow upward. This is most often due to interference with overhead utility lines and is best done as part of a maintenance program where a small portion is removed each year. (always less than 25%).
Tipping or Topping
Topping is like canopy reduction except the reduction is often removal of near 100% of the foliage producing limbs. Tipping or topping is the last resource before complete tree removal. Not all trees can withstand this type of pruning. Here in Georgia, there is one type of tree that does respond well to topping and it is our most requested tree to prune…The Bradford Pear. Bradford pear trees require a lot of pruning. This site has info on how to prune and maintain young Bradford pear trees. Bradford pear trees grow rapidly with a thick canopy to a height up to 50’ with a spread up to 35’. People turn to a professional tree service when their Bradford pear has gotten out of control. If you have a Bradford pear that is 35’ tall we can get it down to around 28’ or so with a crown reduction and canopy thinning. This canopy thinning will help prevent the tree from splitting in a wind storm but it does not guarantee it. When people find out this more selective pruning approach can only reduce the canopy by 20-25% and costs significantly more than topping the Bradford pear or even complete tree removal they usually ask us to top the Bradford pear. After a little hand waiving and coaching about the repercussions of tree topping we agree to do it because we recognize our customer is our boss. See photo below of the before, immediately after effect of Bradford pear tipping and what the tree looks like one year later. You can see in the short term the tree looks rough but if the choice is tipping or complete removal, tipping may be the better alternative. Trees that have been tipped or topped can benefit from a canopy thinning a few years after being topped due to the prolific growth of sprouts and suckers.
The other tree that can withstand a vicious tipping or topping is the crepe myrtle. Topping these trees is normal and common practice in landscaping to maintain it’s classic lollipop form. Outside of the Bradford pear and crepe myrtle most other trees do not respond well. Oak trees are often topped here in Georgia because homeowners fear them falling in a storm due to their size and the amount of damage they could do to their home. If someone fears a tree falling on their house we come out an inspect the tree free of charge, if we determine that the tree is a serious threat to the home it may be that topping or removing the tree is necessary but both should be a matter of last resort. Also if you choose to tip or top a tree that does not respond well to tipping or topping you should do this in later winter or very early spring before the trees put out foliage. The process of putting out foliage coming out of dormancy takes a lot of stored energy reserves from a tree. When we defoliate the tree by trimming or topping it places at lot of additional stress on the tree.
Shaping or training young trees
Starting with young trees is the right way to prune. A little work in the first 5-10 years of a tree’s life can save a lot of work later. Trees respond well to pruning when young and pruning mistakes aren’t as critical as they are on a mature tree. Bypass Loppers are the best single tool for tree pruning. As you become more advanced you might add more tools to your arsenal. When trees are really young you can focus on shape and as they get older you can focus on removing branches that are too close together or even rub each other, and branches that have weak unions. As we covered earlier it becomes more difficult to prune trees as they get older.
Application of wound dressing paint
When limbs are pruned properly not leaving a stub and not flush cutting too close wound dressing shouldn’t be needed. However using a black wound dressing can help aesthetics if several limbs are removed.
When to prune:
The best time to prune most trees is late winter or early. Basically after winter’s worst but before they put on new growth, this is critical because if you wait until ornamental trees break dormancy and begin to bud before you prune them you will be cutting off some of this years blooms. For that reason many people recommend pruning ornamental trees immediately after they bloom. However, pruning outside the recommended time frame increases sap loss and the risk of infection.
Making correct pruning cuts
There are two things to remember when trimming larger limbs that require using a saw instead of a lopper. The first is where to cut and the second is how to cut. Where to cut involves not leaving a nub and not flush cutting into the branch collar. Where the branch joins the tree in most types of tree there will be a noticeable collar. See photo at right.
Below you will see a series of photos with red indicating a flush cut and green indicating a correct cut. Incorrect cuts invite disease.
How to cut is to use a three cut method as illustrated below. See photo at left. The first cut or relief cut (1) should be no more than 1/3 of the way through the branch and is made from underneath. The purpose is to keep the bark from tearing from the weight of the branch when the top cut (2) is made (the top cut will be a downward cut). After the weight of the limb is removed a final cut (3) is made taking care not to leave nub or injure the collar with a flush cut.