It’s the season of giving, and the season of trimming. As folks all over Texas head out on their search to find the perfect Christmas tree for their home, it’s important to review some useful tips on tree trimming and pruning. Before we get into the specifics, let’s define the meaning of “trimming” and “pruning.” Basically, trimming and pruning can both be defined as removing specific branches or stems in order to help improve the growth, strength, and overall appearance of the tree. By doing this, you can help your tree get rid of dead limbs and make room for the healthy growth of new branches.
Whether you’re just looking to trim your Christmas tree or you’d like to work on improving the appearance of multiple trees surrounding your home, follow these tips for successful tree trimming and pruning in South Texas.
1. When is the best time to trim and prune your trees?
It is most common to prune ones trees during the colder, winter months due to the dormancy state of your greens; however, it’s usually best to wait until the coldest part of the winter as passed to allow for an abundance of growth in the coming spring. Also keep in mind that fall is the worst time to prune your trees since healing is slower during this time as the seasons transition to winter.
2. How to Start Pruning
Before you start pruning, ensure that your tools are sharp. It’s best to use one-hand shears with curved blades—particularly for younger trees. For higher branches, you should also have a pole pruner on hand.
To begin pruning, start at the top of the tree and work your way down. Use the 1/3 and 1/4 rules of pruning, outlined by the Arbor Day Foundation:
- Do not remove more than 1/4 of the tree’s crown when pruning.
- The main side branches of the tree should be at least 1/3 smaller than the trunk’s diameter.
- For most deciduous (broadleaf trees, don’t prune up from the bottom any more than 1/3 of the tree’s total height.
- Whenever possible, try to shape side branches to form angles that are 1/3 off vertical that form “10 o’clock” or “2 o’clock” angles with the trunk.
3. Pruning for Strength
When your goal for pruning is to increase the strength of the tree, there are a few important things to keep in mind. First, you should prune very modestly, if at all, when you are first transplanting a new tree. When you transplant a tree, its root system is actually reduced by 80 to 90 percent during the process. In order to prune for strength in this situation, you only remove damaged or dead limbs.
Additionally, once the first year has passed, you can increase pruning. Narrow angles in branches indicate a point of future weakness, as they grow against each other. Branches that are rubbing against one another also result in wounds, decay, and notches. Temporary branches, which are below the lowest permanent branch, can protect young bark from injury from the sun and make the trunk stronger. Because of this, you should wait 2 to 3 years before beginning to remove larger temporary branches. You should also never allow for temporary branches to get too large, so shorten and remove as necessary.
Finally, pruning can also help to strengthen a tree’s center of gravity. To move the tree’s center of gravity, you should cut back the leader and laterals on the side in which the tree is leaning.
4. Pruning for Form
When pruning for form, it’s important to keep in mind that the goal is to help shape a tree to be aesthetically pleasing and so that it serves well in the space it is located. Pruning for form should always be done after pruning for strength.
As you begin, remember not to prune too high too quickly, and remember that no more than 25 percent of the live crown should ever be removed in an annual growing season. For trees with dense crowns, target limbs that turn inward and limbs that extend beyond the natural outline of the crown. When pruning, try to image what the tree will look like as it grows larger in the space. If some limbs are headed towards a side of a house, a sign, or any other obstacle, remove those limbs as early as you can.
For thinning and spacing, you can remove a portion of the limbs which are competing for light or space—this will benefit the tree. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that evenly spaces laterals, 8 to 12 inches apart in a young tree, shows an ideal “ladder” for maturity in a tree.
5. Pruning for different seasons and situations
Although we started earlier that the best time to prune or trim your trees is in the winter, we’re aware that sometimes pruning becomes necessary during other parts of the year. Attempt to avoid pruning as much as possible during the fall and spring, but some pruning can be done in the summer.
If pruning in the summer, you can direct the growth by slowing the branches you don’t want—this is done to reduce the total leaf surface, which in turn reduces the amount of food manufactured and sent to the roots for their development. Additionally, pruning in the summer can be done for corrective purposes. For example, defective limbs can be seen more easily in the summer, and limbs that hand down low under the weigh of leaves.
When pruning after a storm, specifically if there is damage to the tree, you should prune broken branches and help the tree to bring the process of wound repair. Unfortunately, some trees can’t be saved after receiving much storm damage, but you should always allow time for a tree to recover before making a decision to cut it down completely. If the trunk of the tree is split or 50 percent of the crown is gone, then the tree should be cut down.
For more information on tree care, including additional tips for pruning and trimming, visit the Arbor Day Foundation for in-depth guides.