Tips for properly pruning trees

Recently, I've had a number of folks call in and drop by asking if it is alright to trim or prune the trees growing on their TX land this time of the year. I suppose the recent cooler weather has folks going outside more, because September isn't a typical time of year to prune.

As such, my usual answer to these people is a polite and simple "No." Summer months are normally hot and dry - the hardest time in our annual growing cycle for us agriculturally minded folks. Major pruning when trees are heat- and moisture-stressed is a terrible idea.

"Typically, pruning shouldn't be done in the summer - but there are exceptions."

However, minor pruning to remove limbs that are hitting the eves of your home or impeding your walkway, or branches that hit your car whenever you park it in the driveway, most certainly can be performed at any time. Usually, off-season pruning occurs because of the damage or inconvenience a tree limb causes, which is only logical. To cite a topical, unfortunate example, tree limbs that broke off due to winds during Hurricane Harvey need to be removed ASAP.

When cutting off a limb, you don't want to leave a portion sticking out, and you also shouldn't cut too close. There is a "collar" near the base of each limb through which your final pruning cut should be made. Taking care to cut through the collar will ensure the best chances for it to grow back, in time.

Those of us who love our farming and country living know that pruning involves art as well as science. Carefully applied, the loppers can yield more fruit, a more pleasing shape or a healthier plant. But if poorly handled, you can end up with a butchered, unpleasant-looking tree complete with open wounds, so to speak.

That being said, the usual rules don't apply to all trees. Peach trees exemplify how careful pruning at any time can yield an abundance of quality fruit. I'll never forget the first time a commercial peach producer showed me how many lateral limbs he wanted and how many buds he would allow per limb, and then pruned accordingly. His efforts were quite laborious, but brought him great profit. 

Additionally, if you've ever studied the methods of pruning grape vines for maximum production, you'll find a stringent set of rules there. Vineyard owners owe their livelihood to the close observance of very particular pruning methods.

Other fruit and nut trees fall into the same category. Whether you're dealing with a pear, pecan, or persimmon tree, a careful, planned approach typically yields healthier, more abundant fruit.

Tips for properly pruning treesPruning is an ideal form of upkeep for some trees, but must always be handled with utmost care.

Yes, there are outliers in the exacting fruit-pruning world. For example, figs don't need pruning. Some of the best fig trees that I have observed while observing east Texas land for sale haven't seen a blade once yet. Robust as they can become, their limbs grow and produce quality fruit on new growth from watering and fertilizing, and not because of pruning.

Regarding landscape trees, let me share some excellent wisdom on the topic I heard many years ago, from renowned horticulturalist Neil Sperry, no less: "No plant absolutely has to be pruned." A plant will grow naturally so long as it has water, sunlight and nutrients.

Don't believe me? Well, consider the dogwood tree. Who in their right mind would prune one of those back? Or do that to a pine tree, or a crepe myrtle?

Let me wade into this carefully, as it's a bit of an esoteric subject. Crepe myrtles are beautiful plants that can be categorized as large shrubs or small trees. Many standard varieties can reach 20, 25 or even 30 feet tall. Also, there are dwarf trees of this species that grow only to four feet - and even some miniatures that stop at one to two feet in height.

So why do we hack them back so much? I honestly don't know. Left alone, they will still bloom profusely. 

Around the farmhouse that my family bought four years ago, there are some beautiful crepe myrtles, each one at least 25 feet tall. I have no clue how old they are. They have grown tremendously without any tinkering by me or anybody else - and certainly without any pruning. What a travesty it would be to cut them back!

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Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu

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