Gardening & Living in Grand Style
Advice on pruning ornamental deciduous trees
by Michael Johnson
Associate Professor Utah State University Extension Grand County
Dec 06, 2018 | 475 views | 0 0 comments | 51 51 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Advice on pruning
Advice on pruning
The rain we had in October was great but it’s been a bit thin since that time. As gardeners, we will still stay optimistic and think positive thoughts for more rain or snow this winter. While we are looking for a bit of peace and quiet after a hectic summer, a gardening task best accomplished during the winter is the pruning of broadleaf landscape trees, not to be confused with fruit trees. These are the trees that you grow to give you shade in the summer, a quiet place to sit under to contemplate the world around us and a place that gives our fine feathered bird friends a place to sit, gather their strength and scold the cats checking them out. While pruning can be done at any time, the best time is during the winter when the trees have dropped their leaves and are dormant but before they bud out in early spring. Just remember that pruning an ornamental tree is stressful to the tree so consider carefully if and what you need to cut.

Reasons to prune include branches that are diseased or damaged, growing over and into other branches or ones that are touching your home. It’s not a good reason to prune just because you want to or because you “think” the tree needs fewer branches. Trees grow and acquire branches as their root systems allow, they don’t put on more than are necessary and there truly isn’t a need to prune just for pruning’s sake.

The biggest question with pruning is of course how to do it. Walking around town has shown me some quality pruning and a lot of poor pruning. The results are obvious when you see the poor callus formation over the wounds or the dying back of limbs pruned incorrectly.

The best method is called natural target pruning, with natural meaning to remove the branch but not flush cut the branch or leave a stub which if done correctly will result in a more natural look. The target part requires finding two specific sites at the branch trunk intersection including the branch bark ridge and branch bark collar. The branch bark ridge is the area on the upper part of the limb where it meets the trunk and is often a slightly raised rough area. The branch collar is on the underside of the branch and is a slightly swollen or bulging area. Natural target pruning cuts begin just outside of the branch bark ridge away from the trunk angling down and away from the branch bark collar. This will leave a slight bump but there is no stub. This correct pruning cut allows the tree to heal over the area appropriately. Cutting any of the branch bark ridge or collar will usually result in poor healing and dead wood that is always exposed.

The next question that I hear is do I apply something to the cut? If you cut correctly, the wounds will naturally heal and you do not need to apply any type of wound paint or seal so do not apply any. Applying wound seals or paints can actually lead to more decay.

Lastly, if the branch you are cutting is large do a pre-cut where you cut underneath the branch in front of your final cut and then cut the largest section of the branch away. That reduces the chance you will cause the branch to pull off bark tissue down along the trunk. Hope these tips allow us all to see better tree pruning in the future.

Previous articles can be found on the Times Independent website. If you have a topic you would like to know more about call the Utah State University Extension Grand County office at 435-259-7558 or email Mike at

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