Tree Pruning with a Purpose

Fall is a great time to be outside admiring the trees in our landscapes. We take stock of which trees are looking good and which seem to need a little help. If we discover trees that look like they’ve seen better days, we instantly want to solve the problem. It is natural to want to do something to help a plant – prune it, fertilize it, polish it – we can’t help wanting to touch it in some way.

One basic housekeeping chore that might help a struggling tree would be pruning. Pruning is an oft-needed maintenance treatment for good tree health and safety, but pruning without a good reason is not good tree care practice. Pruning just because your neighbor is doing it may not be beneficial for the tree, and could result in too much live tree tissue being removed. This can cause the tree to become stressed, and perhaps decline. In the fall, limit the amount of live tissue being removed and focus mainly on removing dead or broken branches.

In fact, industry tree pruning standards (ANSI A300) say no more than 25 percent of a tree’s foliage should be removed in a single growing season. If the tree is of a species that cannot tolerate a lot of pruning, even less should be removed.

When determining how much pruning your tree can tolerate, a qualified arborist may consider if the tree:

  • is healthy
  • is still growing rapidly or has matured and slowed its growth
  • had its roots severed or damaged recently or in the past
  • suffers from disease
  • is a species tolerant of heavy pruning

A qualified arborist will work with you to set an objective for the pruning job (i.e., what you want accomplished when the work is done). Pruning objectives usually include one or more of the following:

  • reduce risk of damage to people or property
  • manage tree health and direction of growth
  • provide clearance for vehicles or roadways
  • improve tree structure
  • increase or improve aesthetics
  • restore shape

The pruning process can be overwhelming to those not familiar with the pruning of shade and ornamental trees. A qualified tree care expert trained in tree and woody plant health care can answer your questions, as well as help you with your tree-pruning goals. Make sure to ask for tree pruning to be done according to ANSI A300 standards, the generally accepted industry standards for tree care practices.

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