Winter tree pruning

Published 6:15 am Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Winter is a good time to prune most trees because they are dormant and their leaves are off, making it easier to see how the branches are laid out. Here are some general guidelines to help keep your trees healthier and more attractive.

This is the most important tip I can give — do not leave branch stubs when you prune. Trees are wired to heal at branching intersections, so always, always prune where branches or twigs meet. That is where the tree will properly scab over, and if you leave a stub it will totally screw up the healing process. Small twigs can be pruned back but do it just above a bud.

•Do not prune the terminal (also called dominant) leader. This is the tallest and most central branch that will create a nice straight trunk of the tree as it grows.

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• Prune lateral branches that are competing with the terminal leader. A well-formed tree should have a central column with branches coming off perpendicular. If competing lateral branches are not pruned back, you could end up with an undesirable multiple stemmed tree.

•Prune branches pointing inward and branches that rub. This prevents self-inflicted wounds and keeps the inner portion of the tree uncluttered.

• Cut off narrow crotched limbs because they are weakly connected to the tree. Wide crotches are much stronger and able to withstand winds and snow load.

• Trim water sprouts, those fast-growing shoots that grow straight up from branches or the trunk. Take them out with extreme prejudice.

• Prune broken, storm-damaged limbs, and any diseased material.

• Remove suckers that often form around earlier pruned limbs.

Trees that should not be pruned in late winter are free-bleeding varieties that include maple, birch, walnut and poplar. These should be pruned in early winter before February. Showy spring blooming trees should not be pruned until after blooming is complete. There are lots of how-to guides on the internet with photos, so study and take saw in hand.

Steve Roark is a retired area forester from Tazewell, Tennessee.