Despite what the weather feels like, we are coming to the end of winter! Now is the best time to prune most deciduous trees. Without leaves, you can see the tree framework and identify existing or potential problems.
See what needs to be pruned
It’s best to stand back and visually trace the tree’s structure. You may have to move around a bit, but look for places where limbs are rubbing together or hanging below what I like to call the “browse line.” In winter in forests where deer populations are high, you can see a browse line, where deer have “pruned” limbs off trees to the level they can reach. Sometimes, we want to create “browse lines” in our home landscapes. For example, it’s desirable to prune trees planted in or around a parking area or sidewalk to a height above the heads of folks walking to or from their cars by removing all tree limbs that hang below 7 or 8 feet.
Choose the correct pruning tools and cuts
Remove small branches with hand or pole pruners. For larger cuts, use a saw. To avoid damaging the tree when removing or cutting back large branches, use a “three-step cut” to prevent ripping the bark on the tree trunk.
Locate the point where the branch joins the trunk. Follow the branch out approximately six inches:
- Make the first cut from the bottom up. After a few saw strokes, you’ll feel the weight of the limb begin to squeeze the saw. Stop!
- Now go back and make the second cut from the top down, completely dropping the limb. Watch out! It may go suddenly.
- What’s left is a six-inch stub. To remove the stub, make the third cut from the top down just outside the branch collar.
Maintain the protective branch collar
On most trees, you’ll see what’s called a “collar” or ridge encircling the branch where it joins the main trunk. That collar should remain on the tree to help promote healing of the wound created when you remove the stub from the trunk. Over time, the collar becomes part of the “scab” that protects the tree from infection or rot.
Article written by Glenn Palmer, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.