When to prune trees? How to prune trees? Pruning trees has always been something I thought very little about, but a task my family accomplished nearly every year. The folklore and science were something I had not spent a lot of time researching or caring about as a young man. Over the years as I began to read and better understand wildlife management and began to have an opportunity to work on my own land, I quickly realized pruning trees was an area that I needed to learn more about.
I had a lot to learn! At this stage, I remain an amateur at pruning; however, I have been spending my winter days reading and compiling my plan to establish a small wildlife orchard on our land, as well as maintaining family fruit trees on our current homestead.
Lets talk about some places where you can find more information and to rehash some of the old-time rules of pruning and how they match up with today’s science.
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What Sign Do I Cut In?
My grandpa and grandma always talked about the Farmer’s Almanac and planting or cutting during certain signs. They also went by the rule of only pruning in the months with an “r”. Namely the fall or winter months such as January, February, March, April and then September through December.
The Blum’s Farmer’s and Planter’s Almanac for the Year 2018 says “to discourage growth prune in the signs of ARIES or SAGITTARIUS during the increase of the moon (between new and full). To encourage growth, prune in the signs of CANCER or SCORPIO during the decreasing moon (between full and new).” It goes on to provide recommended dates each month depending on your pruning objective – growth or no growth.
Conventional science confirms similar periods of time based on arborists studies which state that trees’ dormant months are the best time – not the only time, but the best time to prune a tree. The late fall or winter months also eliminate the leaf canopy and allows you to see the tree make-up and to determine which limbs need to be trimmed for the health or aesthetics of the tree. Additionally, you are less likely to open the tree to disease if you damage the main trunk during the dormant season as there is less sap flowing allowing the wound to be sealed when the tree begins its growing season.
A good article on pruning from 2013 on the site Limbwalker – The Art and Science of Pruning suggests “For spring flowering plants, where blooms appear on the previous season’s growth, prune soon after the plant finishes flowering. For summer flowering plants, where blooms appear on current season’s growth, prune in the winter.”
How to Prune
Now that we have determined when to prune, now we need to know how to go about it. First, as in every endeavor we undertake, we should determine our desired outcome. Most trees can be pruned every other year or every three to five years; younger or fast-growing trees may require a pruning annually. Some of your trees may be fruit trees or ornamental, so what is your end-state for each tree and how does it fit into your plan.
Next, determine what tools you will need to accomplish your tasks – low branches can be handled with shears or a pruning saw, while higher branches may require an extended blade. Ensure the tools are sharp and will make clean cuts which tend to heal faster. A sharp blade also reduces your fatigue and make the job enjoyable as you tend to your tree. A good set of gloves is always helpful for clean-up, and safety goggles or glasses are recommended any time you are cutting wood as wood chips can do a great job scratching the surface of the eye.
How do I make the cuts and where on the limb should l cut?
The best technique I have found on the internet has been the three-cut method which many arborists now use and recommend. Dr. Shigo, a tree pathologist who worked with the US Forest Service, developed a three cut method which I have seen on several DIY videos.
Another key to successful pruning highlighted in both the article and the video is not cutting the branch collar or any tree trunk material. It is important to ensure you only cut branch material outside the branch collar. This technique will keep you from damaging the trunk which could lead to disease or insect issues in the growing season.
Final Pruning Word
I hope this has given you some basic information on pruning. Like any topic, there are thousands of ideas and options. Hopefully this provides you with a good resource or two and some sound advice on technique.
The bottom-line is to get out there and prune your trees – they are resilient and can handle a mistake or two – if you are not yelling “timber” when your cut is finished!
The benefits of pruning will be apparent over the coming growing season; either through achieving the shape you want or producing more fruit. Pruning is also an area which can benefit all involved; the tree, its fruit or mast, the wildlife and the land owner partaking in those baked apple pies.