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Total Landscape Management

Tree Trimming 101

07-Aug-2018 | by Scott Bennett

Trees can be a beautiful part of your yard. They can add color, shade, and interest to any space. But to have trees means that you have to care for trees. A little care can preserve a tree’s beauty, can keep trees safe for people, and can make trees stronger to withstand the elements. Trees are an investment: some care and trimming every year will pay off with years of beauty. But how do you do it? When do you do it? Doing your own landscape can be hard. This article explores the basics that you need to know to care for your trees.

When is the best time to prune trees? Can I trim in the fall?

The best time to prune non-blooming trees is in late winter when they are fully dormant. An example of a non-blooming tree is an oak tree. Summer blooming trees also should be pruned in late winter as well. You can also trim trees in the fall. Just wait until all the leaves have fallen off the trees before pruning.

Spring blooming trees are best pruned immediately after they bloom in the spring.

How often do I need to trim?

Trimming one time per year should maintain your trees. Sometimes, though, you will need to trim more often. If a storm comes through and breaks some tree limbs, you will need to trim. Or, if you notice that some branches are hanging down too low and are blocking pedestrians walking on the sidewalk or are touching vehicles parked on your street or in the driveway, you will need to trim. If you have branches that hit your house on a windy day, trim theses branches immediately before they cause damage to your house.

When should I trim myself? When should I hire an arborist?

You definitely can do some trimming yourself. If a branch is 2 inches in diameter or smaller, you are OK to trim. If a branch is any bigger, you may want to call an arborist. Larger branches are heavier than smaller branches and require a series of cuts to get them off. Also, many amateurs make the mistake of cutting too close to the trunk while trimming or cutting too far from the trunk. Both cuts can make it harder for your tree to heal from the trimming, and enable bugs and rot to infest your tree through the cut. Trees should be trimmed really close to the trunk of the tree. In the spot where the branch meets the trunk, there is a slight swelling or rise from the trunk called the branch collar. Cut just beyond this swell. You may want to call an arborist if your tree needs trimming up high. It’s just not worth risking a fall off a ladder. It’s also more difficult to get the shape you want when it’s difficult to reach. Talking to a professional tree trimmer would be beneficial.

What should I trim and what should I leave on the tree?
  • Trim cluster branches, the small shoots of branches growing out of the trunk. These tiny branches are easy to trim. By trimming most of these little off-shoots and leaving just a few, you will be helping your tree to grow the few branches you leave much stronger and bigger. Having fewer branches is not only aesthetically appealing but helps your tree to grow stronger.
  • Trim suckers, the small off-shoots of a tree that sometimes start growing spontaneously near the base of a tree. Not only are these suckers ugly and if left can compromise the natural shape of a tree, but they can also be prone to storm damage.
  • Trim tree limbs, close to a bud, not half way in between. You may think this is a small matter but trimming a limb half way from one bud to the next will leave a long piece of branch to wither and die. This doesn’t look good and also leaves a longer portion of the limb more susceptible to insects and disease. Instead trim a limb ¼ of an inch above a bud.
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