Winter is the season for pruning

Published 9:07 am Wednesday, December 7, 2011

by Randy Moore

I had several emails recently about pruning specific trees, so I thought that I would write about pruning in general. If you have specific questions about certain trees just email me at

The key is to prune the unwanted branch while protecting the stem or trunk wood of the tree. Trees may need pruning for a variety of reasons:

• Remove diseased or storm damaged branches

• Thin crown to permit new growth and better air circulation

• To reduce the height

• To remove obstructing lower branches

• To reshape a tree for design purposes.

Most trees should be pruned in the dormant season, which is late fall or early winter, although dead or damaged branches can and should be removed anytime. Pruning in the dormant season minimizes sap loss and stress to the tree.

Deciduous trees should be pruned after all the leaves have fallen so you can see how your pruning will affect the shape of the tree. There are exceptions to this rule, so check with your extension agent or an arborist. An example is fruit trees and crepe myrtles should be pruned in late winter or early spring.

All pruning cuts should be made on the branch side of the stem collar.

Cut from the underside of the limb about a third to half way through depending on the size of the branch and

3 to 4 inches from the collar; this will break the bark at that point to prevent a tear in the bark and stem tissue.

Make your next cut about 6 to 8 inches from the first cut all the way through from the top; you will find that in larger branches the limb will break at the first cut and not tear the bark.

Make a third cut at the branch collar. This is where the branch comes out from the tree. Make this cut parallel to the collar and do not cut into the bark of the tree itself.

Trees heal naturally, so ideally pruning wounds should be left to close without any sealers or paint. Since most pruning is done in the late fall or winter, insects should not be a problem.

After pruning, it is a good idea to give your tree some fertilizer so that the tree can heal and reduce stress from pruning. Remember to never trim more than 25 percent of the crown or one-third the height of the tree. Pruning more than this at one time risks fatally damaging the tree.

After pruning each tree, remember to disinfect pruning tools; tree disease can easily be spread by infected tools. I use one part bleach to nine parts water followed by cleaning with soapy water, and then dry and oil the tools to prevent rust.

If you are not skilled with heavy pruning tools like a chain saw, or if the pruning job is too large for you, hire an expert. Remember safety first.

RANDY MOORE owns Avant Landscape Design in Courtland. He can be reached at