Proper Tree Pruning: When More Is Less and Less Is More

by Phil Berwick, Certified ISA Arborist

Warm days woo woody vessels to open, while winds exercise the boughs in coordination with the trees’ inner plumbing and pumping. If trimming happens as trees awaken, then preferably only dead wood should be taken.

Oaks and Elms must have tree paint applied if they must be trimmed, for open pruning wounds will attract carriers of vascular disease.

It’s better to not prune a tree than to prune it wrong.

Pruning of live branches should be few and far between, and is best done during dormancy when a tree’s sustenance is stored in the root zones. It’s detrimental to remove a lot of live limbs when the ‘sap’s up’.

Tree ‘topping’ is a common chainsaw disease. There are reasons to not let someone ascend into your tree to trim.

  • If they are wearing spikes.
  • If all they carry is a chainsaw and not a handsaw.
  • If they use the T word! (topping).

Branches prone to breaking can be properly reduced with the tree left looking like a tree. But when it’s topped, the original strong wood is replaced by rapidly growing shoots (secondary wood) which will break all the more.

Trees were designed to seal over properly placed pruning wounds. When trees are not trimmed according to their design, and carefully cut back to what I call the healing zone, (the branch bark collar), hollows develop and branches fail. ‘Adventitious buds’ are positioned just under the bark and remain there unless a tree’s top is denuded by a strong wind.

Without the miracle engine of photosynthesis, trees starve. So these latent buds are signaled to action, and quickly sprout leaves so that photosynthesis is only briefly disrupted.

This is why a tree reacts by ‘bushing’ out profusely when topped by a chainsaw instead of a storm.

Whenever a limb larger than 5 inches in diameter is ‘flush cut’ back to the trunk, there is a chance that the pruning wound will desiccate and a hollow will eventually develop before the callous growth can roll over and seal the wound. It’s better for the health and longevity of the tree to trim many smaller branches than to cut off large limbs and sections.

When thinking that ‘you get what you pay for’, consider that when it comes to trimming trees, more is less and less is more.

Phil Berwick; Certified ISA Arborist
314-961-8733 (TREE)
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