Do's and don'ts for properly pruning your trees

Summer storms inevitably bring damage to home landscapes and trees. Some trees are complete losses, but those with minimal damage can sometimes be repaired.

According to Matt Schaefer, district manager of Davey Tree in Barrington, damaged trees - especially large ones - can be dangerous for the homeowner to attempt to prune and clean up.

"Homeowners can attempt small tree repair, but certified arborists are best suited to handle larger jobs," Schaefer said.

Typical damage scenarios include wounds, split branches, exposed roots, leaning or fallen and uprooted trees, and broken and torn limbs. In some cases, the damaged tree has to be removed and replaced.

Schaefer says properly treating limb damage is important for the overall health of the tree.

Davey offers these simple do's and don'ts on proper pruning to prepare trees for winter.

• Do examine before cutting. Inspect the tree's form and branching structure to determine what pruning might be necessary. A certified arborist can help give you direction with this.

• Don't take on jobs that may be a potential safety hazard. Big pruning jobs require a certified arborist to be completed correctly and safely. Schaefer says a good rule of thumb is to never try to prune something that's over your head or requires your feet to be off the ground.

• Do know pruning techniques. Proper pruning, thinning, and directional pruning are techniques that remove structurally weak branches, direct growth and maintain the tree's natural form.

• Don't make improper cuts. Indiscriminate pruning and topping are common mistakes homeowners make when pruning their own trees. A cut in the wrong area of the tree can greatly affect the tree's growth and health.

• Do remove structurally weak branches. Prune dead or diseased branches, latent buds on tree branches known as water sprouts, and shoots that grow from the base of a tree known as suckers.

• Do use the three-point cutting method.

Undercut: Start by sawing into the bottom of the limb one to two feet out on the branch to be removed. Saw about one-third to halfway through the limb to prevent the branch from breaking and ripping bark from the tree.

Top cut: Saw from the top of the limb, an inch or two farther out from the first cut. Saw all the way through the branch, leaving just a stub. This cut removes the weight of the branch, allowing the final cut to be made safely.

Final Cut: Finish up by removing the stub; this allows for optimal healing. The last pruning cut should be made at a slight angle just outside the branch bark ridge at the top of the limb and just outside the branch collar, which is the swollen area located at the bottom of the limb.

• Don't prune near electrical lines. Some pruning jobs can be dangerous. When working with large trees and trees with canopies near electrical lines, consult a professional arborist.

• Do take your time. Once the cuts have been completed, take a step back. Evaluate other limbs.

• Don't over prune. Trees need time to heal. It is best to cut only branches that need it, rather than pruning too many. You should not prune any more than 20% of a tree's live growth during the pruning process.

Barrington arborist Matt Schaefer offers tips on tree pruning after a storm. A cut in the wrong area of the tree can greatly affect its growth and health. Courtesy of Garden Media Group
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