Many tree limbs came down as the most recent winter storm ripped across the Midwest. Some trees were just too weak to handle the extra weight of the ice left by the storm.
Rich Savory of L.E. Savory Tree & Lawn Service in Toledo says the best way to help your trees is to give them a trim. "A well-pruned tree will grow strong. That's why it is important to keep them trained properly," he says. "They will recover quicker if you keep them pruned when they are young." And as we noted last week, this is peak pruning time.
"Trees that are pruned have a lower failure potential and lower liability risk," Mr. Savory says. For home gardeners, that means prune out excess weight before it causes branches to break under pressure. High winds and ice can easily snap weak limbs.
Mr. Savory recommends pruners that have blades that slide past each other to cut the limb. "The bypass pruners will make a cleaner cut than other types of pruners that actually crush the branch while they cut it."
If you have a lot of pruning to do, look for pruners with replaceable parts and comfortable handles that won't put extra strain on your wrists and elbows.
If your pruners have been in the shed for a while, have their blades sharpened and put a fresh coat of all-purpose oil on all of the moving parts.
Mr. Savory says the tree tells you where it should be cut. "If you look at the limb closely, there's a bump on it near where the limb meets the trunk. This is the branch bark collar. Don't cut into it, or it will leave a huge wound. Cut just after it."
Mr. Savory says his crew likes to keep pruning cuts tight. "Always make a diagonal cut without leaving a big stump," he says. He doesn't recommend using tree-wound dressing, especially at this time of year. Painting over a tree wound was popular many years ago. The dressing was applied to discourage insects and disease from getting into trees. But scientists discovered that a properly pruned tree will heal on its own quickly enough without a coating of paint.
"The only exception to that rule," Mr. Savory says, "is if you have to prune oak trees in the summer or have summer storm damage when insects are abundant. Otherwise, we just tell people not to use it because it really doesn't help the tree."
Before you prune, you need a plan. If your 10-year-old tree has never been touched by a sharp object, it might need a lot of work. No matter how much pruning needs to be done, never take out more than one-third of the plant. Removing more than that can weaken the root system so much that it may not recover.
First, cut out any branches that cross. Crossing branches just crowd the tree and rub on each other, causing more problems down the road. Once those are gone, you should see more light in the center of the tree. Next, look for any broken or diseased limbs and remove them, too.
Then, stand back and look at the tree's overall structure. Sometimes, one side of a tree grows faster than the other side, and the tree needs to be reshaped. Trees such as evergreens usually grow with one strong leader on top. If your tree has grown with two leaders that create a "V," cut out the weakest leader while the tree is young.
As most home gardeners know, trees need help to grow up strong. Says Mr. Savory: "Proper pruning will also reduce long-term maintenance costs."