A Short Note about Proper Pruning

Most of the time, we prune our shrubs and trees for (short-term) beauty and ambiance. And, most of the time, our shrubs and trees suffer in the aftermath. Pruning should be done primarily to extend the life, and improve the health, of the plant. Unfortunately, those long-term considerations are often at odds with what our eyes tell us to do to them "right now".

For example, a strong, thick main stem, or trunk, is essential to a tree. A thick, healthy trunk will enable the tree to withstand high winds without snapping later, when its lofty branches are full of leaves that catch and hold the wind. But how do you assure your tree has a thick, healthy trunk? Answer: By leaving as many of the lower limbs (those from the surface of the ground up to a height of 6-10 feet) on it as long as possible. How long depends on how slowly the tree grows. For a fast growing tree like an Arizona Ash, the first six years are extremely important for good trunk development. For an Oak, the first 10-15 years are crucial. Unfortunately for most trees, the eye of the beholder usually commands a homeowner to trim the lowest limbs on the tree immediately, to make the tree "look better". 

Similarly, the secondary limbs that immediately branch off the main limbs of a tree encourage, by their presence, the development of thick, strong, healthy main limbs at their point of connection to the trunk, where strength and thickness are most essential. Like the lower branches on a trunk, however, these secondary limbs are "unattractive", because they "clutter" the interior of the tree. Again, the typical homeowner with a saw close at hand will usually be moved to trim these limbs right away. When these are pruned too early to improve the beauty of the tree, two things happen: (1) the main limbs are unable to develop their ideal strength and stature, leaving them vulnerable to wind injury on that basis alone, and (2) the limb is forced to invest more heavily than normal in the tertiary limbs at its extremities, adding weight where it will stress the limb's connection to the trunk most, thereby making a bad problem even worse.

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