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'Tis the Season for Tree Pruning

Posted Dec. 1, 2007

More than 20 years ago, my wife and I bought a cozy home on a patch of land southeast of Ardmore. From the kitchen window, we watched our boys play in a backyard dotted with trees and could check on our animals in the back lot.

Two decades later, our children have grown, our trees have overgrown and our animals have all but disappeared from sight. The once evenly spaced grove is a mass of interlocking limbs, obstructing the view of anything beyond our porch. While the shade is great, it has become clear it's time to prune.

November through February are prime pruning months because it is the insect dormant season. Though you can prune at any point during the year, the wound provides a highway into the tree for insects, so the safest season to prune is during the winter months.

Beyond aesthetics, pruning offers safety and financial advantages. Low-lying branches represent hazards for those walking under the tree, as well as cause damage to roofs and cars.

Pruning protects the tree as well. During the last windstorm, trees with too many narrow branches absorbed the brunt of the Oklahoma winds, causing the branches to tear off, peeling the bark and splitting the trunk. Many healthy trees ended up in the landfill because they hadn't been properly pruned.

Safety and health issues extend to the actual pruning process as well. Small branches can be clipped with a pair of "loppers." Larger branches require a hand saw or chainsaw. Beyond the normal safety issues with handling such equipment, pruning becomes particularly problematic when we intend to remove higher branches.

I shudder when I think of all the cuts I've made on a ladder with a chainsaw. It's an unnecessary danger. The simplest and safest way to prune high branches is with a pole saw. A new power pole saw hit the market recently. Now, those who prune can have the best of both worlds - the access of a pole saw and the ease of a chainsaw. A regular pole saw and, now, the power pole saw are well worth the cost even if they are only used every few years.

Once the proper equipment has been secured and the branches to prune have been identified (remember you want to prune evenly around the tree), it's time to prune.

Any branch larger than 1 inch in diameter should be trimmed in two or three cuts, moving from the outside toward the trunk. Removing a sizable branch with one cut next to the trunk is dangerous for the pruner and the tree. Cutting a section of the branch at a time elevates the weight of the limb. If a heavy branch is removed in one piece, the branch can swing back and hit the pruner or break other limbs as it falls through the tree's canopy.

When cutting, avoid simply sawing from the top of the branch down. Every pruning cut should begin with a back cut. Start by sawing about ¼ to ½ inch on the underside of the branch, then cut from the top of the branch to the back cut. Simply cutting from the top down will lead to stripping bark away when the limb falls from its own weight. Stripped-away bark provides open access to insects and slows the tree's growth. Back-cutting prevents any tearing.

While cuts along the length of the branch are easy to determine, the final cut - the one next to the trunk - can be tricky. Avoid cutting into the trunk or the "limb collar." Instead, move out about a half inch from the limb collar, which is a small, but noticeable, ring growing out from the trunk. It will take about two or three years before the tree heals completely.