Now that spring is officially here, there are plenty of gardening clean-up activities to take care of. Many can wait a bit but one of the most important things is to get our trees ready for the new season. And since deciduous trees don't have any leaves on them yet, it's a perfect time to prune because you can really see the branching structure.
When pruning ornamental or fruit trees, it can feel a bit daunting knowing which branches to cut off. Here are a few tips that apply to any type of tree:
- remove any branches that are damaged or broken first
- prune off branches that are crossed with others
- remove branches that are heading into the center of the tree
Once those are taken care of, stand back and study the tree. Has the leader (the main trunk) split in two? That's not a good thing and can really weaken the tree. It's best to choose one of them, usually the one that is straighter, and carefully remove the other one.
When making pruning cuts, never cut into the bark of the branch that will remain on the tree. Instead, cut fairly even with the branch, without cutting into the trunk. I located the free graphic (to the right
) on the web that should help you see what I'm referring to. Note the line ("C") between the branch collar below where the branch bark ridge is located. That's what I'm referring to.
Also, if you are removing a heavy branch, carefully remove some of the outer end of it first to reduce the weight of the branch; that minimizes the chance of problems when you cut away the bulk of it. Then make an undercut where "A" is on the graphic first and your second cut at "B." Your final cut will be at "C" after the majority of the branch is already gone. Cuts "A" and "B" will prevent the branch from ripping away some of the bark as it falls, which can really cause serious damage to the tree.
If you have fruit trees, this is a perfect time to spray dormant oil on them. It will smother overwintering insects like scale or aphids, so the tree is starting off in great shape. Be sure to spray this before the trees start leafing-out. The oil is a natural material so it considered organic.
By the way, there's also a dormant spray (which is an insecticide) on the market that I don't use because we grow our fruit trees organically. So you don't want to confuse that with dormant oil. Just ask for help at your local garden center to choose the right product. And, as always, follow the label directions for the best results.