When, Why, and How to Prune Trees

26 Sep 19

With fall officially here, the trees are signaling the change in weather. As the colder temperatures begin to become the status quo, the trees that fill your backyard will start to lose their leaves in anticipation of winter. As trees enter a stage called dormancy, this natural self-preservation process enables them to survive the harsh temperatures that affected the Midwest.

Prior to the dormancy stage beginning, trees release a chemical called abscisic acid (ABA), which is produced in the terminal buds (the section that connects the stem to the leaf). ABA signals to the tree to slow the growth cycle, and halt cell division. This millennium-old process allows trees to hold onto food supplies throughout a season where food production isn’t possible.

The state of Missouri boasts a diverse and sprawling tree population. Currently, Missouri has over 14 million acres of forest land. While the health and conservation of trees are largely taken care of by themselves, some responsibility does fall on people. As a homeowner, you may have heard that you need to prune your trees — but do you know when, why, and how to prune trees? With leaves starting to change color, now’s the time to address these questions.

When Should Trees Be Pruned?

There is this common narrative that once a tree loses its leaves, then it is time to start pruning branches and limbs. However, not only is this inaccurate but it can also inflict irreversible damage to a tree’s future health. Fall is not the right time to prune.

Instead, people to hold off until the coldest parts of winter have passed before they begin to prune their trees. As dormancy is a timed cycle, it is best to trim when the hibernation cycle is in its final third, versus the fall months when trees are just entering their shelter period. By waiting until late winter, pruning can then spur exceptional growth in the spring.

Benefits to Pruning in the Late Winter

• Pruning wounds heal faster
• Reduced risk of disease and pest infestation
• Less sap flow

With that being said, if you have trees that have dead or diseased limbs, those should be removed before winter weather arrives, as these unhealthy parts can be harmful to both people and property.

Why Should Trees Be Pruned?

As trees do a natural job at pruning, they often require help to reach and sustain optimal health. Homeowners wish to have good curb appeal, but pruning goes far beyond just having “good looking” trees. Here are some of the reasons we encourage tree pruning:

• Trimming dead, damaged, or diseased branches helps protect the tree against insects and decay.
• Pruning allows for increased sunlight and airflow throughout the entire tree system, which increases foliage and helps reduce the likelihood of disease.
• Eliminating suckers and water sprouts helps fights the development of weakened sections of a tree, in addition to providing more food and water access for the tree.
• Preventing irregular growth patterns that cause branches to rub and tangle against each other.
• Pruning can provide safety to people and property from potentially dangerous sections of a tree.

How Should Trees Be Pruned?

Pruning can be broken down into two categories – hand tools and power tools. Pruning that can be done using pruners, loppers, or small hand saws is generally going to promote new growth when spring arrives. It is suggested to cut limbs ¼ inch above a bud that faces outward from the tree. Additionally, keeping all cuts at a 45-degree angle will help ward off potential water and disease damage.

For larger branches and limbs that require power tools, a three-step cut is often the best practice to follow.

First, cut halfway through the underside of the limb.

Second, cut fully through the limb just beyond your underside cut.

Third, cut all the way through the limb collar (the area where the limb connects to the trunk of the tree.)

Following these three steps will help ensure a callus is formed where the limb once extended from the tree, which is important to the healing and extended health of the tree moving forward.

Need Your Trees Pruned?

Do you have any tree limbs or branches that need to be removed before winter weather arrives? Looking to have your trees pruned for spring growth? Don’t hesitate to contact us to help provide you with our full-service tree trimming care.