Philosophy of Tree Pruning

I wanted to start this blog in a way that echoes my (short) teaching career. When going for interviews and writing cover letters in education, you often describe your ‘philosophy of education’. Pruning trees is one of my favourite parts of tree care because it really does feel like the truest form of caring for a tree and so I’ve outlined the way I go about deciding how to prune a tree.

There are a few general technical rules of tree pruning:

  • Make proper branch collar cuts
  • Remove less than a third of the canopy in any one year
  • A removed branch should be no bigger than ⅓ the diameter of its parent branch

These rules are generally objective and easy to learn and to follow. They are what is easy to learn from a book or a course on tree maintenance. 

What is not easy to learn is how to apply these technical rules to an individual tree; each tree has a different set of growing conditions, history, and function in its landscape. 

When I climb and prune a tree I follow these steps:

  1. Remove deadwood. Taking out dead branches lets me see how a tree is growing, and importantly what parts are not growing.
  2. Remove rubbing and crossing branches. Contact between two branches causes friction sores and pockets of decay. 
  3. Form of the tree. Lopsidedness, or an uneven canopy can be corrected over time by careful removal of select branches.
  4. Structure of the tree. The interior branches of the tree act as scaffold for the continuing growth of the tree. I identify these important branches and promote them by removing competing (redundant) branches. I select branches with strong unions, removing those with narrow crotches and included bark. Where applicable I ensure to maintain the dominance of the main leader, and subordinate competing branches.
  5. Future growth. Knowing how a tree is going to continue growing is how Form and Structure decisions are made. Branches that grow across and through the canopy in search of light will eventually hinder other branches, or die back from lack of light. A lateral branch that has shot outward and then began to grow upwards needs to be corrected. 
  6. Aesthetics. This is my catch all term for what just looks good in the situation. A tree needs to be pruned to match and benefit the other trees and landscape around them.

These steps don’t happen in sequence, but act as a mental checklist when doing routine maintenance pruning on my client’s trees. 

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