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Gardening with Henry Clay
Winter a good time for pruning trees in landscape
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    Many outside maintenance activities slow down during this time of year due to cold weather.  Take advantage of this slower period and devote some time to pruning those long neglected trees in your landscape.  
    Remember to develop a little objectivity to your endeavor rather than butchering your prized trees. Trees are best pruned while young to develop proper structure.  A good pruning scenario for both young and older trees is to remove diseased and dead limbs first.  Next, check for limbs crossing and rubbing against each other.  Remove the least desirable one to correct this malady.
    Another reason to prune is to make mowing easier. Often simply shortening a long over extended limb back to a side branch will lighten a drooping limb.  Relieved of the extra weight, it will raise itself.  If not sufficient, removing the limb altogether is the next step.  
    Removing a co-dominant limb early in the life of a tree is a standard technique.  This procedure eliminates a side limb that tries to compete with the terminal branch, thus destroying the symmetry of the tree.  This situation develops a weak crotch, which can split later on due to the weak union of the two branches.
    Younger trees are pruned to develop a desirable branch structure.  This is accomplished
by pruning to space the main branches 18 to 36 inches apart.  Smaller insignificant branches are removed altogether.
    It is important to limit the removal of too much foliage all at one time.  A rule of thumb is to limit removal of no more than 15-20 percent of foliage at any one time.  This insures that the tree maintains enough foliage to manufacture sufficient food to sustain proper growth.  
    Proper pruning cuts are imperative to the future health of trees.  Improper cuts fail to heal and generally result in decay of the main trunk.  Eventually trees that are not pruned correctly develop into hazard trees that are a liability to homeowners or commercial establishments.  Pruning correctly is serious business and should not be left to improperly trained maintenance people or irresponsible property owners.  
    The procedure of removing limbs correctly has been researched thoroughly to insure that healing takes place properly.  As little live tissue as possible is removed when pruning away limbs.  Never leave stubs that don’t heal and lead to decay of limbs and trunks.  And, don’t cut into the trunk of the tree which encourages decay.  Correctly done, a branch is removed just beyond the branch collar.  The branch collar is a swollen part of the trunk that extends around the limb near the point where the limb emerges from the trunk of the tree.  Wrinkled (compressed) tissue is evident at the collar on most trees.  If a collar isn’t present remove the limb just beyond the trunk avoiding cutting into the trunk.  While a bit technical, a branch protection zone near the collar is responsible for sealing off the wound and preventing future trunk rot.
    Choosing the right pruning tools is half the battle.  A small, folding, pruning saw is a good choice for small limbs (up to 3 inches in diameter).  They are relatively cheap, razor sharp and cut on the pull stroke.  For larger limbs a small, light chain saw is ideal and a good investment.  Properly cared for, chain saws last for years.
    For more information and illustrations of pruning techniques, the Statesboro Library has a copy of the International Arborist Association manual on Tree Pruning  (compliments of the City of Statesboro Tree Board).
    Garden Section Editor: Stephanie Tames, Georgia Southern Botanical Garden.
If you are interested in contributing a gardening article or have ideas for articles, contact Stephanie Tames at or 871-1149.
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