The Q&A Archives: Birch Tree Maintenance

Question: We have a 30 year old birch tree in our front yard. From the main trunk a branch about 7" in diameter is rotted and broken off. Does this endanger the rest of the tree? Should I cut off the dead wood, and if so, can I do it at this time of the year?

Answer: It's always a good idea to remove dead limbs and branches from trees as soon as you notice them. That way they don't become projectiles in a windstorm. Remove the branch as close as possible to the trunk, without damaging the branch collar (the swelling at the junction of the branch and trunk). A seven-inch branch is large enough that it could tear the bark when it's cut off, so make your first pruning cut on the underside of the branch, about 1/3 through it. Then cut from the top down. Making an undercut will keep the branch from tearing the bark as it falls. If the branch is very long, you might want to cut the end off, 2-3 feet away from the trunk, before making your cuts near the trunk. This way you'll remove most of the weight of the branch and can then concentrate on making clean and properly placed cuts. Usually, a healthy tree will compartmentalize or seal off the damaged branch tissue and keep it from spreading into the trunk. Scar tissue will form inside the tree, and outside on the bark to seal off the wound. If you make your cut flush with the branch collar, the tissue will heal more quickly.

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