Q: What is the best time of year to prune?
Although it all depends on your pruning objectives, most trees can be pruned year-round, if pruned properly.
In fact, winter can often be the best time for an arborist to prune. Since the leaves are off, the view of the entire tree’s architecture is clear and a thorough check can be performed. They can locate deadwood by looking for changes in branch color, fungus growth, cracks, and other symptoms that can help them make this determination.
It’s worth noting that some areas may have pruning restrictions in place if a particular insect or disease is a problem. Contact your local county extension office to find any pruning restrictions.
Q: How often do I need to have my trees pruned?
Trees have deadwood pruned out regularly, at least once per year.
Q: What tools do I need to prune my own trees?
If you are pruning a smaller tree, the three basic tools are: hand pruners, loppers, and hand saws. Remember that these tools need to be sharp and clean to ensure success. Do not use shearers to shape young trees. If the tree is larger and requires more attention, contact an arborist or tree care company.
Q: What is the difference between pollarding, reducing and topping?
These three practices are often confused. Some disreputable tree care companies will purposefully use the wrong term to confuse the homeowner.
Here are the proper definitions:
1. Pollarding: This is an acceptable practice. Ultimately, pollarding is dramatically cutting back the major branches to contain the tree’s size. Pollarding must be started when a tree is young and must continue once every two years.
2. Reduction: This is an acceptable practice, depending on the tree species. A clearly defined objective is established before pruning. Branches are selectively shortened to reduce the height and spread of the tree. For example, a tree blocking a solar panel. Often, reducing a tree allows a homeowner to save a tree they might otherwise have to remove. Proper reduction pruning should not cause excessive sprouts to grow.
3. Topping: Topping is not an acceptable practice. Topping is when a tree is indiscriminately cut back to stubs. Usually topping is done to flat-top the tree or cut it back on all sides. The result is unsightly. Topping is often sold as a method to reduce tree size, however studies have shown that a topped tree will actually grow larger over a five-year period compared to an unpruned control tree. This occurs because the severe cuts cause many weak, but fast-growing sprouts to shoot from the stubs.
Q: I’m still not sure I understand – where can I find more?
Check out this animated pruning guide, built by the National Arbor Day Foundation.
Use TCIA’s search tool to hire a professional arborist or tree care company.