Spring Tree Series: Sharing the Joy of Pruning
While this is a job I would rather do myself, I think it is important to teach my staff and my student workers the basics of tree pruning.
This is the fifth part of the Spring Tree Series with Mike Herrema from Cornerstone University. Previous articles in this series:
The Joy of Pruning
One of the tasks that I really enjoy is pruning trees. I believe it really fits my work style. I love it because I can drink coffee and stare at the tree from all angles, envisioning what limbs and branches I want to remove and what the final product will look like. I find the questions about what I’m doing staring at a tree by people passing by entertaining and amusing. It really makes my day because I think most people would just pitch right into tree pruning without an end goal in mind. While this is a job I would rather do myself, I think it is important to teach my staff and my student workers the basics of tree pruning because after all, they are going to be homeowners someday and they should take away some skills from their summer of working grounds.
Sharing the Joy
My students do the majority of the tree pruning on the campus, and I always try to drive home the basics and to keep it simple. I don’t have them use power equipment such as chainsaws which are way too dangerous for them, only handsaws, bypass loppers and hand pruners. These are the only tools I use when I prune too.
The first thing I try to teach the student workers is to take time to study the tree first, discuss what they want to see happen with it and during the whole pruning process to frequently stop, stand back and reassess the situation. A person can always cut more wood off the tree, but never less. I try to drive home the fact that they can only cut up to a 1/3 of the branches away every year. I’ve learned to have them start with Crabapple trees which are pretty indestructible, forgiving and hard to kill.
The other point that I try to drive home before all else is proper cuts. One of the first signs of a bad prune job is stubbed cuts. I teach them that every cut should be brought back to a branch union for proper healing and growth. Fish eye or oblong cuts are not desirable, but the best cuts are more parallel to the branch collar and the smallest cross section for best healing of the wound. And if they are using the hand saw that is important to undercut the bottom of the branch first a few strokes to prevent tearing of the bark when the limb falls away from the tree.
If they got the proper cutting techniques down the rest is pretty easy. First have them remove any dead, damaged, or diseased limbs. Then look for and remove any limbs that are crossing or rubbing on each other. Lastly look at the overall structure and form of the tree. Identify the central leader and prune out any co-dominant branches. The function that my students are aiming for at this time is to limb up the tree in order to mow underneath it. This is really the goal that I send them out there with. I don’t want them to get smacked in the face with low tree branches or the machine to get caught on a branch.
Overall I hope that making the right cuts and pruning a tree properly is a skill that the student can continue to develop, get better at, and use for the rest of their lives when they have their own yards and trees. If they can learn and pass their academic classes, then they should be able to prune a tree. Plus this way, a select few students will have more respect for you and know that you are working if they see you staring at a tree with a pair of hand pruners on your belt, loppers over your shoulder, a handsaw in one hand…and a cup of coffee in the other.