Winter is a great time to go outside and inspect your deciduous trees and shrubs, as it really gives you the chance to see all the support structure – the trunk and limbs – and determine if there is any need for corrective pruning.
If pruning is required it’s best done in the winter since there is a lower chance of air borne disease entering the pruning wounds during this time of year. However, just because this is the time of year to prune doesn’t mean you need to prune. With ornamental trees, meaning non-fruit bearing trees, it’s really not necessary to prune if the tree has been planted in the right spot and isn’t crowding the house, driveway or sidewalk.
For those planning on planting new ornamental trees this year, take the time to check out the true mature size of your tree and, if necessary, measure the spacing required in your landscape to make sure it fits. Trees start small but don’t stay that way if given appropriate care. Also, the idea that pruning a healthy ornamental tree somehow makes it safer just isn’t true. Usually, we only suggest pruning ornamental trees for health or hazard, but sometimes we prune for form if there has been some previous damage to the tree.
The very basics of tree pruning start by trying to see what might be a problem in the future so that you can make fewer and smaller cuts today. If a branch looks like it will be a problem in the future it’s better to cut it out now rather than wait a few years and have to cut it when it’s larger.
With trees it’s most important that you correctly target the place you are planning to cut. That means cutting so that you leave the branch bark ridge and the branch collar intact.
The branch bark ridge is located on the upper or top surface of the branch right next to the trunk and looks like its name. It’s a ridge of bark that resulted from the growth of the branch and stem tissues against one another. On the underside or bottom of the branch is the branch collar, which is usually a bulge or raised area formed at the base of the branch. When pruning properly you don’t want to damage either of these two tissues. Rather, cut just outside of each, angling down away from the tree to avoid injuring the branch collar. Leaving both of these intact allows the wound to heal properly.
Also, you never want to make flush cuts, which are cuts removing the entire branch flush with the tree trunk. You also don’t want to have stub cuts where you leave a too-long section of the branch intact.
As a last note, it’s not recommended to place any type of paint or tar or other cut treatment on the tree. This material has not been proven to be of benefit to the tree and can actually lead to more decay and/or insect problems in the future.
If you are interested in knowing more about these and other issues, call the USU Extension office or attend the ornamental pruning class. Master Gardener classes will be starting up in February. Keep an eye out for ads telling you about the classes and times they will be held.
Here is an opportunity to volunteer to help others. USU Extension, the Utah Community Action Partnership and other partners are still looking for volunteers to help with the VITA site here in Grand County. This site will help local citizens receive free tax preparation. Those helping will make sure all the required paperwork is available and/or transmit that information to those who will actually be preparing the tax forms. Call Mike at 259-7558 if you would be willing to help with this process.
If you would like to know more about these issues call the USU Extension office at 259-7558.
ByBy Michael Johnson
Utah State University Extension Agent, Grand County