The Why, When, and How Of Tree Pruning On The Homestead

On This Episode of The Modern Homesteading Podcast, Harold and Rachel Talk All About The Why, When, and How Of Tree Pruning On The Homestead For Healthy and Productive Trees.

The Modern Homesteading Podcast, Episode 193 – March 14, 2023

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When To Prune Your Trees

The first thing that must be considered as you prepare to prune trees is when to prune your trees.
The best time to prune trees depends on the species of the tree and the purpose of the pruning. In general, deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves in winter) can be pruned in late winter or early spring before new growth begins. Coniferous trees (trees with needles or cones) can be pruned during the dormant season in late winter or early spring.

Summer and fall are not recommended for pruning deciduous trees as they can promote new growth that is vulnerable to damage from the winter cold. Pruning during the growing season (spring and summer) should be limited to removing dead, diseased, or broken branches to avoid stimulating excessive new growth.

Crown Thinning

Crown thinning is a pruning technique used to remove specific branches from the crown (upper canopy) of a tree to improve its overall structure and appearance. This technique is typically used on deciduous trees and involves the removal of a portion of the branches evenly throughout the crown while maintaining the overall shape and size of the tree.

Crown thinning helps to:

  • Improve the tree’s structure by reducing weight and wind resistance in the crown.
  • Increase light penetration and air circulation, which can help prevent the development of disease and pests.
  • Reduce the overall density of the crown, allowing for more light and air to reach the lower branches.

Removing Dead Branches

This is pretty straightforward. Of course, you would want to remove any branches that are dead as they won’t be of any benefit to the tree or you.

Most times you can tell easily when a branch is dead by visual inspection, but to be sure, you can look for the following signs:

  • Lack of leaves: Dead branches will have no leaves or show signs of discoloration and withering.
  • Peeling bark: Dead branches may have peeling or missing bark.
  • Fungi growth: Fungi growing on the branch is a strong indicator that the branch is dead.
  • No buds: The absence of buds on a branch is a sign that it is dead and needs to be removed.
  • Brittle texture: Dead branches are often brittle and snap easily when bent.
  • Discoloration: Dead branches may be a different color than the surrounding healthy wood, often appearing dull and gray.
  • Decay: If a branch is decayed, it is most likely dead and needs to be removed.

Branches Growing Toward Trees Center or Crossing Other Branches

Removing these branches is important for several reasons:

  • Branch removal helps to maintain the tree’s natural shape and structure, which is important for its stability and overall health.
  • Crowding of these branches can lead to reduced light penetration and air circulation, which can lead to the development of disease and pests.
  • Removing these branches also opens up the tree’s canopy, allowing for more light and air to reach the lower branches. This can encourage new growth and help maintain the tree’s overall health.
  • Branches can also rub against each other, creating wounds that are prone to disease and pest infestations. Pruning these branches can help prevent the spread of disease and pests throughout the tree.

Heading Trees

Heading is a tree pruning technique where the tips of branches are removed to encourage the growth of new shoots. This technique is commonly used to control the size and shape of shrubs and trees, and to promote a denser, bushier appearance.

Heading cuts are typically made just above a bud or side shoot, and they cause the buds below the cut to grow into new shoots. This results in the tree or shrub producing more branches and foliage, which can create a fuller, denser appearance.

However, excessive heading can result in a tree or shrub becoming too dense, which can reduce light penetration and air circulation and make the plant more susceptible to disease and pests. Additionally, heading cuts can result in the production of weak, vigorous shoots that are more susceptible to damage from wind and ice.

As a result, heading should be performed judiciously and with the goal of promoting the overall health and stability of the tree or shrub.

Height Reduction

There are several reasons why tree pruning for height reduction may be necessary:

Trees that are too tall can pose a safety hazard if they are near buildings, power lines, or other structures. Pruning trees to reduce their height can help to minimize the risk of damage or injury in the event of a fall.

Tall trees can obstruct views, interfere with overhead utilities or power lines, or encroach on adjacent properties. Pruning trees to reduce their height can help to increase clearance and ensure that they do not cause any problems.

In some cases, trees that are too tall may be aesthetically unappealing and detract from the overall appearance of a landscape. Pruning trees to reduce their height can help to create a more balanced and attractive appearance.

Trees that are too tall can be more susceptible to damage from wind, snow, and ice. Pruning trees to reduce their height can help to improve their overall stability and health.

Probably the most important reason for homesteaders is that it keeps fruit within a reasonable reach for harvest. This is important for ease of harvest and safety. Being able to pick your fruit without using a ladder with the aid of an extended fruit picker is safer, quicker, and more convenient.

Crown Lifting

Crown lifting is a tree pruning technique where the lower branches of a tree are removed to increase the clearance between the ground and the lowest branches. This is commonly done for several reasons:
Removing lower branches can increase visibility and reduce the risk of tripping, collision, or damage to vehicles, pedestrians, or property.

Crown lifting can increase the clearance beneath the tree, which can be useful for creating more space for pedestrian and vehicular traffic, or to allow more light and air to reach the ground beneath the tree.
Removing lower branches can also create a more attractive appearance, especially if the trunk and the main branches of the tree are visually appealing.

Sprouts Forming Off Base Of Trunk

Sprouts forming off the base of a tree trunk, also known as basal shoots or suckers, can be a sign of stress or damage to the tree. In some cases, pruning these sprouts can help to improve the overall health and stability of the tree. Reasons to prune sprouts off the base of a trunk include:

Sprouts can compete with the main trunk of the tree for resources such as water and nutrients, which can reduce the overall health and growth of the tree. Pruning the sprouts can help to reduce competition and ensure that the tree’s resources are being used efficiently.

Sprouts can also be a sign of stress or damage to the tree, and they can provide entry points for pests and diseases. Pruning the sprouts can help to reduce the risk of further damage or infection to the tree.

Multiple Leaders

A tree with multiple leaders is one where there are several main trunks or branches growing from the same point near the base of the tree. Pruning multiple leaders from a tree is sometimes necessary to maintain the health and stability of the tree, as well as its appearance. Reasons to prune multiple leaders from a tree include:

Trees with multiple leaders can be more susceptible to damage from wind and snow, as the multiple trunks can put more stress on the tree and increase the risk of breakage. Pruning the leaders can help to reduce the stress on the tree and improve its stability.

Coppicing

Coppicing is a very traditional method used to manage woodland areas. It is done by trimming the tree or shrub down to a small ‘stool’. This stool will typically sit very low to the ground, often less than 8 inches in height before the growth of new shoots.

Pollarding

Pollarding is a technique that focuses on the upper branches of a tree. The branches are cut at the head of the tree in an attempt to encourage a thicker, denser head of foliage. It began as a way of producing materials and feed. But this has since evolved as a way of managing tree heights to keep them safe or prevent them from interfering with electrical wires.

See my article on Pollarding and Coppicing

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