Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
February, 2002
Regional Report

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The espalier, here a Red Delicious apple, is a highly specialized pruning technique.

Tree Trimming Time

Spring-like weather brings out certain urges in many of us. Oddly enough, one of those urges is aggressive tree pruning, judging by the activity around my town.

Long Term Results

Tree pruning is both art and science. Done well, pruning is deliberate and thoughtful. A little nip here and snip there on a young tree may have a direct and dramatic effect on its ultimate shape and structure. On an older tree, removal of a dead or damaged branch may promote a longer, healthier life. But sadly, misinformed or random cutting such as topping can damage a tree forever.

Stop Topping

Topping, or cutting back to a uniform height "straight across the top" may look like a good, thorough pruning job to the untrained eye. At first glance, the tree looks great because topping reduces the overall size and imposes a symmetry that appeals to many homeowners.

Unfortunately, this indiscriminate cutting destroys the natural branching pattern of the tree. That pattern is part of the tree's identity, appeal, and strength. Branches create distinctive outlines: rounded or vase-shaped or horizontal; the shape helps us identify a tree as a maple or an oak or a dogwood.

Beyond aesthetics, the branches are essential structural elements. Trees have evolved uniquely successful branching patterns to support their own weight and size over the years. It is part of their adaptation for survival. Topping destroys that natural support system, weakens the tree, and leaves large wounds thus further inviting pests and diseases.

Do It Right

We property owners can help trees maintain and preserve their natural strength, help them stay vigorous and healthy, with judicious and knowledgeable pruning. If needed, we can prune to enhance the natural structure and remove dead or damaged branches. We can also check for possible pest or disease problems.

Regular inspection and maintenance is the wise way to go. Pulling out the loppers, pole pruner and chain saw for the fun of it on a fine spring day just isn't part of that stewardship program.

Get Help

Most of us -- and the trees in our care -- would certainly benefit from consulting a reliable pruning manual and possibly also with a professionally trained and certified arborist, a person with honest respect for trees and the knowledge and skill to help trees grow their best for the long haul.

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