Getting a new puppy can be about the most exciting and fun experience in a new dog owner’s life. They are full of energy and excited to play and run around. They are also a bit wild and tend to create havoc.
Without proper training, a new puppy can develop bad habits and make more long term problems if they’re not taught at a young age. Early training results in a well behaved mature dog.
Young trees can be a lot like a new puppy, without the accidents in your house. Structural pruning of young trees early and often will result in healthier, long lived and more aesthetically pleasing mature trees.
When Is The Best Time To Start Structural Pruning Of Young Trees?
In a perfect scenario, your new tree has the ideal structure and requires no pruning at the time of planting. However, we find that newly planted trees benefit from a few small pruning cuts to get it on the right path to proper form and structure.
First, take a pair of hand snips and remove any broken or cracked branches that may have occurred when the tree was moved from the nursery or during the planting process.
Secondly, shorten any branches that are rubbing against adjacent branches to prevent bark injury.
Lastly, inspect the tree for codominant branches, which are included v-shaped branch unions. Now is the time to make a small cut to remove branches with poor attachments. This helps avoid creating a larger wound in the future if the poorly attached branch is allowed to stay on the tree.
How Often Should I Structurally Prune My Young Tree?
Pruning your young tree every 2-3 years for the first twenty years of its life is the best way to establish good structure and form. Early pruning in a young tree’s life can help establish the central leader or main trunk of the tree.
Often young trees tend to have multiple branches competing for sunlight, thus giving your sapling the shape of a small bush. This can lead to poor branch spacing and too many branches in one area on the trunk.
Having an established central leader will help guide the process of knowing which branches need to be shortened/thinned, or removed to allow more sunlight to your main trunk.
Should I Remove The Lowest Branches On The Trunk when structural pruning?
Raising the crown on a young tree can be a slow and deliberate process. Forest grown trees put most of their energy into growing tall and straight because of the competition for light with the adjacent trees. They tend to shed lower branches early in life and focus growth vertically vs horizontally.
A landscape tree tends to have zero competition for light when it’s planted in the middle of a sunny backyard. Trees grown in full sun landscapes focus growth both horizontally and vertically, allowing low branches to establish quickly and increase in diameter and length.
Low branches that are allowed to establish on the trunk with no pruning can lead to large pruning wounds when removed later in a tree’s life. With consistent pruning, you can slow the growth of low branches. and eventually when the canopy is raised by removing the lower limbs, the result will be much smaller diameter wounds on the trunk and subsequently reduce the time it takes for the tree to seal over the wounds.
Why Not Just Cut Off All The Lower Branches And Quickly Raise The Crown Height?
When establishing young trees, leaving lower branches on the trunk can provide multiple benefits. Low branches help newly established trees develop trunk taper, which means the trunk is wider at the base and skinnier at the top.
During wind events, the tree’s crown, branches and leaves all react by moving and dampening the effects of wind. Young trees will respond to branch and trunk movement by producing growth hormones that will increase the taper of the branches and the trunk. Trees with trunks and branches that taper are stronger, more flexible and resistant to failure.
Low branches on young trees also help protect the tree’s trunk from direct sunlight. Some thin bark trees like maples can suffer from sun scald if lower branches are removed too quickly and the trunk is exposed to direct winter sunlight.
At What Height Should the Lowest Branch Be Allowed To Establish?
When structural pruning young trees, we use the concept of the lowest permanent branch. This is a guideline to determine which of the lowest branches will remain on the tree over the course of its lifetime.
On most newly planted trees from the nursery, every branch currently on the tree is temporary and the tree is not quite tall enough for the lowest permanent branch.
The location of your tree can help determine which branch you choose for the lowest permanent branch. A tree planted close to the house, driveway, or front walk will require the permanent branches to be higher from the ground to avoid contact with the home, people, and vehicles.
Branches that are allowed to establish closer to the ground can provide benefits to your property in the form of deeper shade, privacy by obstructing views, and easy climbing and play for kids.
Consider the eventual height and width of your new tree. If your tree is relatively short in stature, you may choose to allow the lower branches to establish to promote a fuller crown shape.
If the tree will grow to a large size, you may prefer a higher canopy with a long, straight trunk with no branches.
Knowing which branches are temporary and which are permanent can reduce the damage of aggressive pruning in the future.
Newly planted trees never seem to grow fast enough to satisfy the desire for shade and beauty in our yards and cities. Often pruning is overlooked during the tree’s establishment years to allow the most possible growth.
Structural pruning during a young tree’s formative years can eliminate bad habits in form and structure that can lead to expensive tree failure and removal down the road. Pruning young trees for long-term success will lead to less reactive pruning in later years and more proactive growth and health. Reach out to us today to schedule an evaluation of your trees by one of our certified arborists.