Principles of Pruning, Part 1: When and Why to Prune

Shade trees can be a great addition to any landscape, whether a sprawling estate, college campus or the lawn of a homeowner. Pruning shade trees is an important step to take to ensure a long, healthy life for the tree, and can be considered both an art and a science.

“We prune for a specific reason,” said Dr. Jeff Iles, chair of the Department of Horticulture at Iowa State University. “We try to correct the tree’s architecture, we try to make it structurally sound, and if we are lucky and good, that tree will have a long and functional life.”

Basically, pruning is the removal of plant parts for a specific purpose. Pruning trees when they are young can make the biggest difference, Iles said. It is important to try to envision the tree 20-30 years down the road, because it won’t look anything like it does now. Pruning is the dormant season is recommended by Iles, because the leaves are gone—the tree’s architecture can be seen easily, there are no insect or disease pressures to worry about and the wounds created in the dormant season will quickly heal when the tree begins to grow again in the spring.

“Pruning is a little bit like raising children or dogs or cats…it requires constant vigilance, so at least once a year,” Iles said. “I realize that might be a daunting task, but trees are constantly growing so visiting a shade tree at least once a year, maybe twice is a really good schedule to get on.”

Tools of the trade

Iles said that there are only a few tools that are needed to prune shade trees. High-powered equipment is not needed, and a pair of quality pruning shears, which can be purchased at any garden center or mass merchant is a tool that should be obtained.

A folding saw it also good to have, with sharp teeth that cuts both on the push and pull stroke. A good pair of gloves, to keep your hands safe, is good to have on hand and to keep in mind.

Check out the next installment of the Principles of Pruning here

For more information on pruning trees, go here

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