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2 Novice Tree Pruning Mistakes That Could Destroy Your Trees

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After buying your first home, you might be eager to put your personal touch on the landscaping. After all, who wants to stare at that unsightly juniper bush for one more minute? Although it might seem simple to plant a few flowers or round out those shrubs, trimming those trees might be more difficult than you suspect. Here are two novice tree pruning mistakes that could destroy your trees, and how you can avoid trouble: 

1: Topping

If those long tree branches are stretching over your house or threatening overhead power lines, you might be tempted to take those pruning shears and chop off the top. Unfortunately, this pruning tactic, also referred to as "topping," can destroy your tree. Here are a few things that might happen if you remove the top of your least-favorite tree:

  • Stress: Believe it or not, tree topping can remove as much as 50 to 100% of a tree's leaf bearing crown, limiting the plant's ability to absorb and convert sunlight into useable food. This added stress can trigger survival mechanisms in a tree, such as activating dormant buds or prompting the growth of unsightly shoots.
  • Decay: When you cut a tree evenly at the crown, you might be sawing through main trunks, which act as lifelines to the rest of the plant. Unfortunately, if the injury is too large, water might be able to seep into the entirety of the tree, rotting the structure.
  • Unnatural Growth Patterns: If your tree happens to survive being topped, it might start to grow in unnatural, unattractive ways. In addition to looking strange, topped trees can lose their natural balance, which might make them more prone to branch breakage and injury during extreme weather.   

If you have a large tree interfering with the functionality of your yard, consider having the tree professionally removed. Tree trimming specialists can safely cut down one branch at a time, and then grind out the stump so that you can plant sod or install a flowerbed where the tree once was.

2: Removing Too Much Foliage At A Time

Is that huge Flowering Pear tree blocking the view of your home? Because pruning can be difficult and time consuming, you might be tempted to remove as much extra foliage as possible. After all, why wouldn't you make your Saturday morning count? Unfortunately, removing too much foliage can be hard on your tree too.

Anytime a branch is cut off of a tree, it represents an injury that the tree has to cope with. Much like your own immune system, trees can only fight so many battles at one time. If you remove too many branches, your tree might have to focus on healing from its recent injuries, instead of fending off pest infestations and new infections. Here are a few tips that might help you to avoid removing more foliage than you need to:

  • Prune Gradually: If you want to split up your work and give your tree more time to heal, consider pruning gradually over the course of a few days. In addition to spending more time evaluating your cuts, you might be able to shape the tree more effectively.  
  • Separate the Tree Into Sections: Consider splitting the tree into quadrants, and then working on each section one at a time. To do this, take a few pieces of masking tape and mark the trunk. When you are up in the tree trimming, pay attention to which side of the branches you are working from. Focus on taking an even amount from each side, so that you don't over-prune.

To stay on the safe side, experts typically recommend never removing more than 15 to 20% of the total tree canopy at any given time, not including dead branches.

By taking your time to prune your trees carefully, you might be able to protect your landscaping and beautify your yard.