6 pruning tips

To keep trees healthy and protect your property, give them proper care

By Lorraine FlaniganLorraine Flanigan


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Cottagers are often resistant to change, especially when it concerns the natural setting. When considering opening a view to the lake, maintaining a path in the bush, or lopping a limb that’s too close to a power line, we can be fraught with indecision: Let nature take her course or give her a helping hand?

The answer lies in the health of the tree. In nature, weather and wildlife are inexpert pruners, wrenching off branches and munching succulent young limbs, often leaving unhealed wounds, which expose the tree to diseases and insect infestations. Judicious pruning helps, for example, where crowded, criss-crossed limbs are rubbing against each other—possibly obstructing a good view. Jumbled branches not only damage the stems but also block sunlight and restrict air circulation, which can lead to disease. Benign neglect may work in the wild, but when dam-aged trees are on your land, for their health, and for safety’s sake, it’s prudent to prune.

1. Start young

Start shaping trees when they’re young by removing inward-growing stems and crossed branches while they are thinner and easier to reach. By creating a framework for a healthy, open canopy early, you’ll head off future problems.

2. Time it right

It’s easier to see the branching structure when trees are bare, so prune deciduous trees while they’re dormant—in winter or early spring, before leaves appear. (Since sap rises early in maples and birches, prune these in mid-winter or wait till late spring, after they leaf out.) Evergreens need only infrequent pruning to maintain health, but when necessary, spring until June is the ideal time. No matter what the season, though, remove damaged and diseased limbs right away.

3. Get the angle

When trimming an overreaching stem, cut it back to about half a centimetre above a live bud and at a 45° downward angle to allow rain to run off the wound. Cutting closer may damage the bud, while cutting too far away leaves a stub that will wither. Improper cuts can also cause the growth of wispy shoots that develop into weak branches.

4. Cut both ways

To avoid tearing a limb where it joins the tree, use a saw to remove large branches with two separate cuts. First, saw a quarter of the way through the branch from the underside, about 30 cm from the collar (the slight bulge where branch meets trunk); make a second cut about 8 cm farther out from the first, this time sawing from the top. These cuts will cause the branch to fall, leaving the way clear to cut the remaining stump just outside the collar.

5. Ring around the collar

When cutting a limb back to the trunk, make the cut close to, but outside, the collar. Cutting too closely inhibits the wound from healing naturally and may prompt the growth of sprouts.

6. Know when to call an arborist

It takes skill to safely prune trees. For very large limbs requiring power equipment and those situated high in the tree, contact a professional to do the job for you. You want to improve your cottage view, not replace it with a hospital-room wall.

This article was originally published on April 16, 2009

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Lorraine Flanigan