Fruit trees (and most deciduous trees) are best pruned in winter or early spring, before they blossom. Pruning while the tree is dormant lessens the impact. Allows the sap and stored nutrients to remain with the tree, and lets the tree compensate with the new growth the following spring.
- Flowering trees are best pruned just after they blossom, as this encourages more flowering next season. Magnolia, celmesia, rhododendrons etc.
- Young trees should be formatively pruned to remove weak junctions such as double leaders, (when the tree develops two or more parallel trunks with an acute angle between them at the join) crossed or poorly positioned branches can also be removed. Shaping a tree gradually as it grows allows a more natural look to be achieved rather than drastically altering it once it is considered a problem.
- Trees do not grow like grass so giving it a good haircut similarly to the way we treat our lawns or hair is not recommended. Trees do not heal, any cut or damage remains with the tree until it dies. Small cuts can be “compartmentalised” – grown over and sealed off. Larger cuts will take much longer to cover over, and remain open to insects, fungi and weather, potentially weakening or killing the tree.
What about the practice of Topping, do Tree Tamers recommend it?
Topping is perhaps the most harmful tree pruning practice known. Yet, despite more than 25 years of literature and seminars explaining its harmful effects, topping remains a common practice.
What is Topping?
Topping is the indiscriminate cutting of tree branches to stubs or to lateral branches that are not large enough to assume the terminal role. Other names for topping include “heading,” or “tipping.” Topping is often used to reduce the size of a tree. A homeowner may feel that a tree has become too large for his or her property, or that tall trees may pose an unacceptable risk. Topping, however, is not a viable method of height reduction and certainly does not reduce future risk. In fact, topping will increase risk in the long term.
Topping Stresses Trees
Topping can remove 50 to 100 percent of a tree’s leaf-bearing crown. Leaves are the food factories of a tree. Removing them can temporarily starve a tree and trigger various survival mechanisms. Dormant buds are activated, forcing the rapid growth of multiple shoots below each cut. The tree needs to put out a new crop of leaves as soon as possible. If a tree does not have the stored energy reserves to do so, it will be seriously weakened and may die. A stressed tree with large, open pruning wounds is more vulnerable to insect and disease infestations. The tree may lack sufficient energy to chemically defend the wounds against invasion, and some insects are actually attracted to the hemical signals trees release.
Topping Leads to Decay
Correct pruning cuts are made just beyond the branch collar at the point of attachment. The tree is biologically equipped to close such a wound, provided the tree is healthy enough and the wound is not too large. Cuts made along a limb between lateral branches create stubs with wounds that the tree may not be able to close. The exposed wood tissues begin to decay. Normally, a tree will “wall off,” or compartmentalize, the decaying tissues, but few trees can defend the multiple severe wounds caused by topping. The decay organisms are given a free path to move down through the branches.
Topping Can Lead to Sunburn
Branches within a tree’s crown produce thousands of leaves to absorb sunlight. When the leaves are removed, the remaining branches and trunk are suddenly exposed to high levels of light and heat. The result may be sunburn of the tissues beneath the bark, which can lead to cankers, bark splitting, and death of some branches.
Topping Can Lead to Unacceptable Risk
The survival mechanism that causes a tree to produce multiple shoots below each topping cut comes at great expense to the tree. These shoots develop from buds near the surface of the old branches. Unlike normal branches that develop in a socket of overlapping wood tissues, these new shoots are anchored only in the outermost layers of the parent branches and are weakly attached. The new shoots grow quickly, as much as 6 metres in one year in some species. Unfortunately, the shoots are prone to breaking, especially during windy or icy conditions. While the original goal was to reduce risk by reducing height, risk of limb failure has now increased.