“I finger all the thickly twisted branchings
And tilt my head as I envision each of the
Diagnostic choices: this branch or that gone.”
– Pruning the Apple Tree, twinklingalong.blogspot
On a brisk January afternoon our arborist, Billy Manning, came out to the farm to give us a pruning tutorial. We have nearly 1,000 young white oaks that were in need of what’s often called “limbing up” and wanted to be sure we proceeded correctly.
Pruning done properly can help trees develop both strong structures and attractive shapes. Improper pruning can damage a tree for life. You should learn where and how to make cuts before you ever pick up a saw, then always have a reason for choosing what to cut.
Naturally, small cuts do less damage than large ones, so concentrate on pruning/training young trees. Mature trees cannot always close and heal wounds to thick branches. If cuts are too large, the tree may be opened to permanent decay or made susceptible to unhealthy sprout production.
Generally you should begin by removing dead or diseased branches. Next, take out limbs that are crossed over others. Most young trees have a single dominant leader that grows upward. You should not prune this back or allow secondary branches to outgrow it. If there happens to be two leaders, one should be removed while the tree is young.
Remember that your goal is to have a strong, tapered trunk with sturdy, well-spaced branches. It is very important to leave some of the lower lateral branches growing from the tree’s side, at least temporarily, because their leaves are food factories for the trunk and help protect it from sun scorch. The rule that Mr. Manning taught us is to remove no more than 25 percent of a tree’s limb/leaf volume at an annual pruning.
Pruning is not a job for chainsaws. Use hand pruning shears (secateurs) for small trees and lopping shears or a pruning saw for larger cuts. Make cuts just outside the branch collar, the raised knob where the branch attaches to the tree.
February is the best time for pruning in most of S.C. For more detailed information and excellent how-to diagrams, visit the International Society of Arborists’ website, www.treesaregood. com/treecare /pruning. Another good resource is the Sunset Pruning Handbook. And please, no topping.
— Joanna Angle is a Master Tree Farmer and 2012 South Carolina Tree Farmer of the Year. Her Cedarleaf Farm in Chester County is a Certified Stewardship Forest and part of the American Tree Farm System.