Little Known Tips for Trimming Trees in Spring

By: albertaarb - April 9, 2014

Trimming trees in spring does not have to be a mystery, but it does take care, proper tools and the right timing. So for success this year, follow these tried, true, but little known tips for trimming.

Take Care: Know the 3 "Whys" of Trimming

1. Trim to thin. Trees must be trimmed so they receive more sunshine and air, are nicely shaped and are free of dead and sickly wood. In addition, forget painting or dressing the wound on the branch. It does nothing for keeping bugs and disease away, and it does not help close the wound.

When trimming to thin, or for any other reason, cut the branch cleanly, at an angle and at 1/4" above a lateral bud or branch. Choose to cut away a branch, bud or shoot that is aimed in an unfavorable direction. Keep those that seem healthy and will grow to enhance the looks of the tree. 

2. Trim to reduce in number. Fewer trees or branches may be better for maximum fruit and flowers and also for healthier positioning in a grove of trees. Fewer trees and trees with less dense foliage will flourish as they receive more air, sunshine, water and nutrients.

A word of caution, though: don't go crazy! For the looks and health of a tree and its neighbors, never remove more than 1/4 of the leaf-bearing crown of a tree

3. Trim for safety. People should be able to walk under a tree without striking their heads or having an unsafe limb fall on them.

An important principle of the 3 "Whys" of trimming is think twice and cut once. Sounds like carpentry, doesn't it?

Proper Tools

Sharp is best, says the International Society of Aboriculture (ISA). Know how to use tools and maintain correctly.

1. Use hand-held pruners with curved blades to cut smaller branches. Trim close to the lateral bud or branch, making sure the cut is clean, angled and about 1/4" above the bud. The longer-handled loppers work well for thicker wood.

2. Use a pole saw to trim branches that are too high to reach safely. Do not trim trees from the rungs of any ladder.

3. Choose a quality gas-powered or electric chain saw for heavier limbs. Keep it sharpened and lubricated.

If the job is too high or the limbs too heavy, call in a professional. Climbing with spikes is never for the amateur. Also, spikes hurt trees and should be used by someone trained to use them safely and only when a tree must come down.

Correct Timing is Critical

1. Watch the weather. Spring can be OK to trim trees, but watch the long term forecast to avoid surprise snow, ice and windstorms.

2. Hardwood trees such as maples achieve great growth and few problems with wounds if trimmed in the early spring.

3. Any deciduous tree tolerates trimming best in March and April BEFORE it leafs out. Trim it later, and the bark tears much more easily, compromising the health of the tree.

4. Fruit trees may be trimmed as early as February and as late as April.

5. Flowering trees should be trimmed after their flowers have faded.

When in doubt about trimming trees in spring, do some research or consult a professional arborist. Establish a pattern for each spring so trees leaf out, flower, bear fruit well and have a generous life span.

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