Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mystery Pruner

A friend posted a question about tree pruning on Facebook over the weekend that struck a nerve and got me thinking about the casual way many people approach tree care.

She wrote:
“So I hear a noise on my patio this morning while we are eating breakfast and look out and there is a guy there. Trimming my tree. MY tree. The one I planted on Mother’s Day when I first moved in. Weird! Should I be thankful or defensive?”

In short: Yes! Be defensive! Who was this guy?  Did he know anything about pruning trees? Did he even know what kind of tree it was?  What kind of pruning was he planning on doing?  He obviously didn’t talk about it with the homeowner (it turned out he was from the HOA).  I was still skeptical and had her send me a photo of the final product.

Not many people I encounter in my work understand that tree care is both an art and a science. This is not surprising. After all, where does one learn how to take care of trees?  Luckily, the Cooperative Extension at CSU has a detailed and easily accessible handout titled, “Pruning Mature Shade Trees.”  I suggest bookmarking it for when you need it.

The gist? Improper tree pruning can lead to pests, disease, and even shorten the life of a tree.  Remember, trees are long term investments, and a bad pruning job that leads to pests, disease or death can rapidly turn decades of investment into a liability.

With the stakes this high, pruning should be left to the experts. Here is an overview of what the experts look for when evaluating a tree. There are several different ways or what the experts call ‘objectives’ to prune a tree.  The objectives are: Structural, Cleaning, Thinning, Raising, Reduction, Restoration, Pollarding.  Each results in a different method for pruning a tree, and each method uses different types of pruning cuts (removal, reduction, and heading cuts are some examples).   Consideration also must be given to the objective of pruning: is the goal to improve health, remove of broken limbs, or to shape?

Have I lost you? If the myriad means and ends of pruning hasn’t motivated you to trade those pruners in your hand for a stiff drink, then a discussion of root shoot ratios, loin-tailing, and branch collar probably would. That is why the Facebook post got me all fired up.  My friend’s “mystery landscaper” was altering her special tree in a way that could profoundly affect its health and longevity—all without her permission and without her first being able to ascertain what credentials, if any, he had.

One thing the “mystery landscaper” did right was to time the pruning to the appropriate season.  Late winter and early spring are great times to prune because the tree’s wound-healing capacity is more robust , stress to the tree is minimal, and most pests are hibernating or frozen solid.  

When you are looking for someone to work on your trees, make sure they are certified through the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).   We are still not sure about the “mystery landscaper” credentials, but he did have a lot of sharp-looking tools…

My recommendation: leave the pruning to the experts or, if you must do it yourself, do plenty of homework first. Be a guardian and a protector of your trees.  They are worth every penny of investment. 

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