Proper training, trimming, and heavy pruning are a necessity if you want the trees on your property to look their best and remain healthy. The problem can come with knowing whether you should prune or leave the tree alone. The following can help you decide.
Was the tree planted in the last three or four years?
Pruning is most important for the first few years after planting, because this is when the branch framework is formed that will dictate the general shape and health of the tree for the rest of its life. In general, this training method of pruning removes all upright branches except for the main trunk. Next, excess lateral branches are removed so that the basic framework isn't crowded and the tree is well balanced. This is done annually for a few years, or until the tree matures to the point that it no longer is trying to grow excessive laterals.
Is there visible damage?
Broken branches, dead wood, and obvious signs of disease or pests are all indicators that it is time to prune. Dead and damaged wood can be cut back to the nearest healthy junction with a branch or the trunk. Pest- or disease-damaged wood should be removed completely so the problem doesn't spread to the rest of the tree. When cutting out damaged sections, disinfect the pruning tools with a diluted bleach solution afterward and destroy the branches.
Are branches rubbing together?
Don't overlook an overly dense interior. Branches that rub together become injured, which makes them more prone to breakage or pest and disease problems. Cut out the weaker of the two branches that are rubbing, removing it back to the nearest healthy junction. Also, take this opportunity to trim out any water spouts on the remaining healthy branches – these are small branches that try to grow perfectly vertical from a lateral branch. Removing rubbing branches and waterspouts also opens the interior of the tree for better air circulation.
Has the tree lost its shape?
Most trees can tolerate basic shaping. This is achieved by trimming back the tips of the branches by no more than a quarter or a third of their length. There is no hard and fast rule, you simply want to leave the majority of the branches unpruned so the tree can recover quickly. Make the cuts carefully so the canopy of the tree looks balanced when you are done. This type of pruning is not meant to control size. The only reliable way to control the size of a tree is to only plant varieties with a mature size no larger than what you desire.
If you don't feel up to the task on your own, contact Northern Virginia Tree Experts, Inc. or other tree experts in your area to help maintain healthy trees on your property.