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Pruning A Tree - The Right Way

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James Kilkelly
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Joined: 30 May 2006
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 08, 2007 8:41 pm    Post subject: Pruning A Tree - The Right Way Reply with quote

Pruning A Tree - The Right Way
By James F. Burns

Pruning a tree should be a relatively simple matter, if we stop and think about the way a tree grows. A tree, as any other plant, adds length from the bottom upward, a system known as elongation. In order to get nutrients from one point to the other, so that this elongation can occur, there is a system of vessels, one known as xylem, the other phloem. these are surrounded by, and, are, part of the living tissue known as cambium. Inside all this, is the woody tissue. This is non living tissue, cells deposited as the tree grows outward. These serve as a structural base for the tree.

Trees have certain tissues that are more likely to produce new growth than others. These are found at and nearby nodes, or junctions. A tree has a certain growth pattern, genetically predetermined, and a given species will grow in a particular, and predictable pattern. When working with a tree, it is always best to work with this pattern, not against it. Topiary aside, the plant has a way that it wants to grow, and it will try to grow that way.

Many of the "growth" cells are located in the joints where one branch or limb connects to another. When we prune, it is always best to prune close to the callous of this junction. If we move to far from it, we leave an extension that will eventually rot, and allow water and disease into the structural part of the tree. If we prune "flush" with the adjoining limb, we cut most of the callous from the joint, and slow the recovery of the wound. Some cells are much more likely to produce the adventitious growth cells need for the tree to heal, removing them, or making a cut to far away from them is a mistake.

It is best for the cut to be clean, no jagged edges, or torn tissue. I often check my cuts, and trim any jagged edges with my pocket knife, which I keep razor sharp for just such occasions.

There is one thing which gardeners seem to hang onto with the tenacity of religious belief, and, which should be "exorcised" from the world of pruning with the same religious fervor. It is a product which has been badly miss named, called, pruning paint. I have looked at thousands of trees, that have had this applied, and have never seen one completely callous over, or heal. For whatever reason, the callous will not form, or adhere to the paint, and the wound, though covered, never quite heals.

When you are thinking of pruning a tree, your first step should be to get as far away from it as possible. Look at the shape, and growth pattern. Is it rounded? is the habit conical? This will give you a chance to think about the finished form you would like to achieve. Many people, among them supposed professionals, shape a tree by treating it like a shrub.


If you need proof of what I am saying, go to a place where trees have been pruned by the method I describe, they will be callousing over, healing, without growing very many water sprouts or disease susceptible, badly connected new growth.

Now find some that were pruned by hacking of a limb 5 feet from the base, without going to a lateral branch. It will be dead or dying, there will be insects , fungus and disease present, whether you see them or not, and most likely, signs of them. There may be a rotting knot hole in the tree, beginning to rot out the trees support system, probably with water in the hole already. There will be badly attached water sprouts, most of them with fungus present.

This is like natural law, it is self evident! Yet year after year, I watch as "trained arborists", continue to do this! Why? I don't know. Perhaps their training was flawed.

James Burns is a licensed pest control professional, has been a Certified Professional Turfgrass Manager for more than 16 years, has a lifetime of experience in horticulture and agriculture, and is the owner of Rational Environmental Solutions, an IPM based pest control company in East Texas. He also has many helpful gardening tips at

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Last edited by James Kilkelly on Tue Jul 31, 2007 8:35 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 30, 2007 10:33 pm    Post subject: Pruning Trees The Right Way Reply with quote

It was great to see the article posted on your very nice site.
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