When to Time Your Tree Pruning: Tips for Portland Landscaping, by Kirk Lobb

February 12, 2014

Portland Landscaping Tree PruningPruning is a science and an art. Proper pruning requires an understanding of plant biology, an appreciation for aesthetic beauty, and a sense of how pruning will allow more growth.  In today’s blog, we’re taking a look at the when, why, and how of pruning trees in the Portland area.

The first thing to understand about pruning for Portland landscaping is to understand why it’s done in the first place. Pruning accomplishes many goals:

–Improved plant structure and growth habits.
–Limits disease by reducing shade and stagnant airflow.
–Encouraging a beautiful shape that compliments other landscaping.
–Removing dead, diseased, or pest-damaged branches will aid in general good health.
–Averts trees from growing into unwanted areas or structures such as utility lines.
–Removes obstructions from views.
–Prevents unnecessary breakage of branches from over weighting.

Portland Landscaping Tree Pruning 2When pruning, our Portland landscaping maintenance professionals take a look at the tree from many angles. Using ANSI (American National Standard Institute) guidelines, our arborists will examine landscape plantings from the inside out and establish a proper form for the specimen.

There are a few things to ascertain before you ever begin cutting:

  • First assess the tree.  Ask the following questions: Is the tree in good health?  What type of structure does this tree have?  Then look for damaged or competing branches and make their removal your first cuts.
  • Next determine how much pruning is necessary.  If the health of the tree is poor, choose a low dose of pruning. If the health is good, choose a normal dose prune.

There are three general types of cuts when pruning:

1) Removal cuts, removes the entire branch at its point of origin of which weak or diseased branches are targeted. Removal should also occur when one branch grows in the path of another branch—these are sometimes called “competing” or “crossing” branches.  Removing bad branches will stimulate healthy growth patterns while also improving overall appearance.

2) Reduction cuts, shorten the stem or branch to a lateral that is at least 1/3RD the diameter of the parent.  The goals are to suppress branch growth (not to remove the branch),  direct new growth and reduce the total amount of pruning necessary.

3) Heading cuts, which cut back part of the shoot or branch. Proper heading cuts should be made a quarter inch above a lateral bud. Vertical growth—when tree or bush branches grow straight up—is unhealthy because the branches become too top heavy, and will tend to break off in high winds. On fruit trees, vertical branches will likely break off under the weight of the fruit. To make a heading cut, cut a quarter inch beyond the lateral bud. This will encourage growth at the bud, and foster healthy sideways growth in the long term.

Branches that are broken or damaged should also be removed.

Dead sections may be removed at any time of year. However, pruning for shape and productivity must be timed very carefully.

Portland Landscaping Pruning Tips for Ornamental Trees

Portland Landscaping Japanese Maple Tree PruningOrnamentals may be pruned throughout the season during dormancy, after spring growth, and through the summer and early fall. It’s best to avoid pruning during leaf drop.  During dormancy, most plants are in an “energy saver” mode, and pruning does not hinder future growth. Indeed, the tree will send more energy to the remaining buds, increasing growth as temperatures rise.  In contrast, pruning in the summer or spring will cut into the tree’s growth period, and will sometimes reduce that growth.  With that said, you may want to cut overgrown trees in the summer, so as to limit their growth.

Pruning a flowering specimen in bloom is a definite no-no, in any season.  Never prune during leaf drop.

When pruning Japanese maples and other ornamental specimens, be sure to remove dead wood first, working your way from the trunk of the tree out to the tips of its branches.  Some customers prefer to have their ornamental trees pruned when they’re fully leafed, in the spring or summer.  While this does allow one to see what you’re cutting away, we generally recommend pruning before a plant buds out in leaves or blossoms; this allows our landscape arborists to prune more strategically for more aesthetically pleasing growth patterns in the future.

Portland landscaping maintenance crews that “top” or “shear” trees and call it pruning are doing their customers a major disservice.  It’s faster, but in the long term, such hasty, practices will injure the plant, require increased healing, increases the susceptibility to disease and just looks bad.

Portland Fruit Tree Pruning

Portland Landscaping Cherry Tree PruningFruit trees should be pruned as late in the winter as possible. In Western Oregon, major frosts tend to be over by February 1st and pruning should be completed no later than mid-February in the Portland area.  Consult your local arborist for regions outside of the Pacific Northwest.

Have more questions about the trees in your landscape design? We recommend kicking things off with a visit from your friendly Portland landscaping professional. You want to have a landscape contractor assess the trees in your yard to determine a pruning plan. With a proper maintenance plan your trees will be healthier and last longer, as well as be more aesthetically pleasing. Landscape East & West’s Portland landscaping professionals will prune in a way that allows your trees to grow healthy and bloom beautifully.

Kirk LobbKirk Lobb is an ISA Certified Arborist #PN-7707A and the Service Department Manager at Landscape East & West, Portland landscaping professionals. Kirk specializes in helping customers with tree pruning plans, from fruit trees to ornamentals. We invite you to learn more about our ornamental and structural tree pruning services.