Winter Tree Pruning

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Winter is an ideal time to gain control of unruly or misshapen trees and shrubs in your yard. Deciduous plants have dropped their foliage revealing the true form of the specimen. Sap movement has slowed down keeping the project spick and span. Winter pruning will stimulate plants to grow faster the following spring and allow time for the wound to heal before insects and disease can attack. All aspects surrounding pruning are simplified making this creative task quick and easy.

Start off by taking a step back to appreciate the trees natural growth habit. Is the tree high headed? Pyramid shaped? Multistemed? Scout for rubbing branches, discoloration (possible disease) and any residing dead material. Having an idea of the shape you want to create or branches that need removing will assemble a well thought out plan to inspire success.

Each cut made will have an impact on the trees shape from then onward. Take a minute to investigate the branch in question and visualize which direction the new growth will travel. Find a node point (the point in which a new growth sprouts) that is directed towards open space. Ensuring that your cut will not lead the new growth to encounter an existing branch is key to maintaining a healthy and well-formed tree. Make a cut just after the node point at a 45 degree angle to produce an attractive branch with no displeasing knobs throughout.  

A complete branch removal involves a slightly different cut style. Rather than finding a node you will now be looking for the branch collar. This feature is found at the attachment point of the offshoot to be removed and the main bough. The cut will need to be made flush with the collar without cutting into the collar at all. This technique will allow the collar to heal over top of the wound as future protection from the elements, disease and insects.

Working with the appropriate equipment will allow for high quality work and make the pruning process effortless. A pole pruner is helpful for taller specimen, loppers for removal of medium sized branches, hand pruners to shape small branches and possibly a saw for large scale removal. A most important aid in pruning is a plant friendly disinfectant for your tools. Spraying your tools with a disinfectant in between every cut will help prevent the spread of any plant related diseases between different parts of the same tree and between different specimen. A 50/50 dilution of 70% isopropyl alcohol with water will effectively sanitize your equipment. Completing pruning tasks with the suitable tools and sanitation practices will ensure that you will see great results.

Safety is the most important element of pruning that needs acknowledgement. Safe practices are a must with any pruning work to ensure you and those around you remain safe the entire time. Avoid climbing trees without the appropriate regulated harnessing equipment and know how. Even the most mature trees can have weak or brittle limbs that can easily snap under pressure. Should you need to reach higher limbs try bringing a pole pruner into use. If you have a working buddy a ladder can become a handy tool as well. An important technique when using a saw is to always cut away from yourself to avoid any slip ups. When completing finesse work with pruners it is easy to focus on the branch and not on our own hands. Before applying pressure to the pruner do one last check to ensure your hands and fingers are well out of the way of the blade. Lastly, before making a cut ensure you have a suitable grip on the limb to stabilize it. A loose limb could cause serious injury to you and anyone within range of the falling branch. Keep these tips in mind and remember that there is no need to rush through this thoughtful scope of work.

One common disease best seen in the winter months is blacknot. You may have seen the recognizable symptoms in your own yard or at a neighbors. A branch or stem that suddenly erupts into a black, swollen gall is a popular characteristic of blacknot infection. This is a highly contagious fungal disease that spreads via spore. Once infected the overall health of the tree is negatively impacted and can eventually be brought to an early death if not treated. Attacking the prunus family this disease has become a common concern that needs to be properly dealt with. Thankfully combatting blacknot is no major dilemma. Any affected branches can be cut back 6-8” (15-20cm) behind the knot to remedy the situation and save the tree. All scrap material should be bagged up immediately and dispose of via burying. Do not compost or burn the affected branches! These practices will release the spores and further infect your tree. As with any pruning, disinfecting your equipment between every cut is vital to the prevention of disease spread.

Note: Educate yourself about what species you are about to prune. Some species make their flowers the year before and winter pruning may steal the show. Species such as Lilacs are best to leave for later in spring to ensure a beautiful show of blooms. Examples of trees that can be successfully pruned in winter include Maple, Willow and Mayday.

 Take advantage of this ideal time of year to improve the health and aesthetics of your yard. Come and discover any tools and know how you require at Countryside Garden Center. Our knowledgeable staff can assist you to find the tools, techniques and information you need to get the job done right.

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