This information focuses on young trees in their establishment period while pruning is possible by the homeowner.
What time of year do I prune my trees?

The winter months are a good time for pruning. Most trees are dormant or are growing more slowly during these months, so the pruning cuts will not affect the tree as much as they would during the growing season. In general, pruning helps us, the pruners, shape the tree.

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What do I need to know before pruning my tree?

Before pruning, know the natural shape and potential size of the tree. These are genetic factors that even the sharpest tools cannot control. Just as humans come in different shapes and sizes, so do trees. Knowing what the tree is genetically programmed to look like will help in deciding which branches to cut.

Also remember that removing living material from the tree means decreasing the tree's ability to feed itself. Making cuts in the tree is also creating wounds that the tree will need to heal. Therefore, overpruning the tree will negatively impact growth.

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How do I know which branches to prune?

The first cuts should be the removal of dead, dying, broken, or diseased branches. These are not contributing to the tree's health and are unsightly.

The next cuts should be to enhance the natural shape of the tree. Stand back and look at the tree before and between cuts. Locate and preserve the main leader and the strongest branches. If the tree is one that grows naturally with a single central leader, prune competing leaders. Eliminate crossing, rubbing, or ingrowing branches or any that distract from the tree's form.

Make the cuts clean and as small as possible to help the tree heal properly and quickly. Avoid cuts that are flush with the trunk or point of origin. At the base of every branch there is a slight swelling just before the branch enters the trunk. Look for this "collar" and place your cut just outside it. Do not damage the branch collar. Always cut to a point of origin to avoid leaving stubs that invite decay and disease. Lastly, do not use any compounds to paint or seal the wounds.

A properly pruned tree should not look like it was attacked with a machete. Just like a good hair trim, if no one notices it is a good sign.

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My tree is too tall, can I top my tree?

The misguided practice of tree topping (also known as stubbing, dehorning, pollarding, or heading) has risen to crisis proportions. As you drive around Roseville, many nubby trunks are visible. Many tree owners believe that topping the tree controls it's size and makes the tree more manageable and safer.

Topping of trees does not control tree size. The topped tree will rapidly attempt to replace missing leaf area and resume its previous size. Although the tree may not reach that size in a growing season, every time it is cut back, it will spurt out again. The exception to this rule is where the tree's health is damaged from severe pruning. The damaged tree is, in effect, dying and will continue on a downward spiral for years.

Topping of trees is expensive. A topped tree must be pruned and repruned every few years. Each time a branch is cut, a surge of long, skinny shoots grows in replacement, making the perpetual pruning cycle exponentially more difficult. Ultimately, the tree may have to be removed if it is too large for the space in which it is planted.

Topping of trees is unattractive. A fully amputated tree is not pleasing to the eye. The natural beauty of the tree's crown is a function of the uninterrupted taper from the trunk to the ever finer and more delicate branches. Topping destroys this silhouette.

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How does 'topping' effect my tree?

Topping trees disfigures them and gives them an unnatural look. Topping of trees is dangerous. Topping is one of the most serious injuries to be inflicted upon a tree. Topping creates hazards in four ways:

  • it opens the tree to rot and disease
  • it removes the tree's food source, prompting starvation
  • it encourages weak limbs
  • it causes thick regrowth which can more easily catch the wind

More practical and reliable pruning techniques exist and are encouraged.

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Is it OK to prune my tree way back?

Remember that each tree has a genetic code that rules over our interferences. The tree's reaction to overpruning will be to fill back out to replace the lost growth. The alternative is to prune the tree while maintaining it's form. Careful, managed pruning promotes evenly distributed growth that is strongly attached to the tree.

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Winter Pruning Tips

Winter Pruning Tips


Planting for tomorrow...today.