Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
March, 2010
Regional Report

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When there are no leaves on our deciduous shade and fruit trees, their structure can be readily seen and evaluated.

Prune Shade and Fruit Trees with Care

Spring is just around the corner. It's time to take advantage of the nice weather and prune shade and ornamental trees. When there are no leaves on our deciduous trees, their structure can be readily seen and evaluated. You can also identify dead or dying branches.

Pruning is much easier if you begin the process when the plants are young. Even if you make a mistake, younger trees are quick to develop new growth. Within a few years, no one will ever know you've cut off the wrong branch.

Whenever you prune a tree, whether to remove damaged, dying or dead branches, you are in effect wounding the plant. When you realize this, you understand why it's so important to follow proper pruning techniques in order for the tree to properly heal its wounds.

We still see some tree care services cutting branches "flush" to the trunk. Printed information still circulates that recommends making flush cuts. However, this practice has been shown to cause more damage and lengthen the healing process. Flush cutting will ultimately weaken a tree and may result in its early death. This type of pruning removes the branch collar and often goes behind the branch bark ridge. These are natural markings on the tree. So it's a good idea to learn how to identify the branch collar and the bark ridge before you actually make the cut.

Recognizing the Branch Collar
When you examine the region at the base of a growing branch, you will see a swollen area or "doughnut" where living callus tissue begins to form. This is the branch collar. On older and larger branches, this area is usually easy to distinguish. It is often darker in color, looking like a series of closely spaced circles at the base of the branch. Do not prune off this branch collar!

Proper pruning involves cutting off a branch close to the branch collar without actually damaging the collar. Look for a cracked and slightly raised ring where the branch joins the stem. This marking is called the branch bark ridge. Let it be your guide.

Proper Pruning Technique
When pruning, place the saw or pruning shears in front of the ridge and cut downward and slightly outward. This prevents damage to the branch collar and allows the wound to close over more rapidly. If you're removing a large branch, first make an undercut several inches out from the base of that limb. This will prevent tearing or stripping bark off the trunk when the branch falls.

A proper pruning cut takes no longer to make than an incorrect cut, but the consequences for the tree can mean life or a slow death.

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