Pruning trees is an important task that if done properly will improve the health of the tree and increase the tree’s ability to grow taller and stronger than it would without pruning.
One of the many important factors to keep in mind when pruning trees is that each tree species takes on a different shape that is specific to that species. Pruning should help the tree, and you should only prune if you have a good reason. Some of the most common reasons to prune a tree are to remove dead or diseased branches, remove low hanging branches, control the tree size, or to remove broken branches.
Another important factor in pruning trees is to know when to prune a tree. To do this you should know that tree growth is rapid in the spring followed by food storage in the roots. Growth slows down in the summer and stops in the fall when the tree becomes dormant. Dead branches can be removed at any time, but it’s best to prune living branches in late winter or early spring. Bleeding (or losing sap from cuts) can be a problem in late spring for some trees such as birch, maple, elm, or walnut trees. These trees should be pruned before January. Pruning in the summer should be limited as much as possible but its best to prune a tree if it is in need.
Pruning cuts depend on the branch’s size. Small branches need to be removed back to a bud or the next living branch. Larger branches require special pruning. Natural target pruning is the recommended method. Cuts are made along lines that the tree makes for branch shedding, which creates a “target” for the cut. Pay attention to where the outer side of the branch bark ridge (the raised ridge that separates the branch from the trunk) meets the stem, and where the lower part of the branch meets the stem (also called the branch collar, which is usually a slightly swollen area).
Pruning should be done so that the cut is perpendicular to the axis of the branch being removed. This should be done without being behind the branch bark ridge, and without cutting the branch collar. This same cut is used when removing dead branches as well. To remove the weight of a limb and avoid stripping the bark of a tree, use the three-step cutting method. The three-step cutting method involves: 1. Making an undercut on the branch side of your target cut, 2. Cutting down to meet your first cut to remove the limb and 3. Make your target cut.
If you have any questions about pruning your trees whether they a for shade or fruit, please give your local extension agent a call. You can also look at the montguides available at (https://store.msuextension.org/Departments/MontGuides-by-Category.aspx) or at the extension office.