Proper pruning of trees in the landscape
November 17, 2015
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URBANA, Ill - Do you have a reason to prune? 

“There are several reasons you may want to prune your tree, including pruning for form, health, safety, strength, aesthetics, and production,” said Andrew Holsinger, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

Proper selection and placement of a tree is a preferred method compared to pruning in order to control a plant’s size.

“Careful placement of the tree should be followed by strategic pruning cuts,” Holsinger said.  ”Pruning early can prevent problems that can arise in the future. Large branch sizes require greater healing time and can create a lasting opportunity for insect or disease damage to occur when removed.”

Proper pruning can increase the strength of a tree. The angle between two branches can indicate the strength of their union. A V-shaped angle between two branches is too acute and will not allow for enough space to add new wood for needed strength, Holsinger said. “Selective removal of branches with V-shaped angles will help to potentially strengthen the tree. Some trees are characteristic as a species for excessive twig drop and poor structure,” he said.

Removal of dead wood can be done at any time of the year. Diseased wood can also be removed to prevent further injury, but timing can be critical. “Prune when the tree is dry and take caution to sanitize pruning equipment to prevent the spread of the disease,” Holsinger cautioned.

Remove branches that present a hazard or could potentially be hazardous in the near future.  Holsinger recommended a gradual pruning of the landscape tree. “The future of your tree is what you make of it,” he noted. “Hazards can also be created with improper pruning practices.”

Late winter, just before spring growth begins, is the best time to prune most deciduous trees. The structure of the tree will be revealed with the absence of leaves.

“Pruning can have several benefits, namely as preventative maintenance to promote plant health,” Holsinger said.  “That’s why it is important to know what to prune, when to prune it, and how to make the cuts properly.”

Questions arise when wounds from pruning cuts are created that cause bleeding with some trees.

Should pruning be postponed for trees that bleed, such as birches, maples, and elms?

“It is an option to wait,” Holsinger explained. “Trees that bleed are usually losing mostly water and no long-term harm will be done. The wounds should heal quickly with new spring growth.

“Many people overlook the benefits of pruning while a tree is young, leading to drastic and expensive measures down the road. Through routine pruning of young trees, you will enhance the form, strength, and beauty of your landscape trees,” Holsinger said.