Pruning Young Trees

In our first post a few weeks ago we talked about why pruning is important. It makes such a difference in the life of a plant. It is wise to follow proper horticultural and arboricultural practices while maintaining your landscape. I believe this is more true for trees than anything else. After a tree is planted properly it needs to be shaped and trained for it to be all it can be.

One of the most important lessons I learned early in my career is that when you buy a tree at a nursery it is not a “final product.” (Thank you Bernie) A good tree from a reputable nursery has been trained and worked on enough to get it started. There is a basic, desirable shape that most trees should be trained into. If you want your tree to have a good structure and have the highest chance for long term success it is imperative to continue with pruning for the next stage of it’s life. A poorly shaped tree can be a hazard and expense in the future. Invest in your investment early on so that it doesn’t cost you more in the long run.

In this post, I want to touch on five basics of tree training to consider when pruning a young tree. There is so much to consider when working on a young tree but we want you to be able to walk away with some practical, easy to execute objectives that will increase your potential for success. Please feel free to contact us if you have questions or want more information about a particular topic. We are here to put you at ease and help you be successful with your landscape goals…

  1. Remove damaged and broken growth- Seems very straight forward, right? Visually inspect the tree and remove any branches that are broken or have a large amount of damage. If you are looking at a particular option at a nursery and you see more than one or two branches that are damaged, you may want to move on to the next tree. No need to start of with a less than healthy specimen.
  2. Central leader- When shaping a young tree it is important to encourage a single, vertical stem that goes as far up into the canopy as possible. Other stems that attempt to grow vertically should be reduced, or subordinated, to become lateral branches or removed entirely. If this is not tended to a situation where you have more than one main trunk can occur. This is known as a codominant leader and can lead to included bark and a weak spot in the structure of the tree. Codominant leaders become harder to remove the older the tree becomes.
  3. Lowest permanent branch- Depending on the species of tree and the location it is planted you will want to encourage the canopy to be high enough to not cause issues down the road. Will you need to walk or mow under the tree one day? Is the canopy going to extend over a driveway or road as it matures? These, and other questions, need to be considered when selecting the lowest permanent branch that will help create the long term canopy of the tree.
  4. Select your scaffold branches- These scaffold branches are what is going to create your canopy. They should be well spaced, both vertically and radially around the main trunk and be at an angle so not to become codominant. They will also need to be smaller in comparison to the main trunk.
  5. Identify and work on temporary branches- Temporary branches should be identified and left below the lowest permanent branch and along the scaffold branches. They are important because they aid in feeding the trunk, create a good trunk taper and protect the young bark from the sun. They should be subordinated and then eventually removed. Don’t leave them too long and allow them to grow too large.

This may seem like a lot to get through. Take heart! It is a lot to wrap your head around but it is important to remember that this is a slow process that takes place over many years. It is wise to remove 25% or less of the canopy in one year. Invest the time and effort early on. You will appreciate it one day when you are enjoying the shade of your healthy, mature tree.