Tree Pruning in Surrey

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Tree Pruning improves the life and shape of trees

Incorrect pruning destroys tree dignity, destroys tree defence systems and destroys tree beauty.

It is important to understand trees are made up of wood and wood is tissue made up of living, dying and dead cells in a highly ordered arrangement. This tissue consists of cellulose and lignin. The living cells in the tree store energy reserves for tree defences. This is why it’s so important that a tree surgeon does not over prune trees by topping, taking out too much living tissue. This badly affects the defence of trees.

However proper pruning is beneficial to tree vitality. Using a qualified Arborist, who knows correct pruning procedure will greatly help trees.

Bad Pruning Practices

Flush cuts destroys a tree's major defence system. Pruning cuts made by tree surgeons must avoid cutting into the branch bark ridge, and the branch collar. When correct pruning cuts are made a complete circle or ‘doughnut’ of callus is formed around the cut.

When tree surgeons cut into the collar, ie flush cutting, broken rings of callus form, like a horseshoe shape. Flush cuts are ‘bad practice’ because they remove the tree’s protective boundary that forms within the branch collar. Flush cuts lead to a reduction of energy reserves in the tissue around the wound. Large cankers often form about flush cuts. which can lead to excessive sprouting. Barrier zones are severed and layers of defenceless wood is exposed.

Any dormant buds will be stimulated upon exposure and will start sprouting shoots everywhere. This growth spurt will use up a substantial amount of energy reserves which are normally needed for tree defence. Proper pruning is the removal of living, dead and dying parts of trees to benefit the trees well being. Flush cuts expose the fresh wood to infections.

Arborist pruning tree in Cobham Surrey

When to carry out formative pruning of trees

Pruning of deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves in winter) is often best carried out in winter, as it is easier to see the branch structure.

Pruning of evergreen trees is often carried out in April, as they come into growth.

Exceptions to these rules include tender deciduous trees, best pruned in spring, once the risk of frost has passed, and also stone fruit trees (cherries, flowering cherries, apricots, peaches, plums and nectarines). These can be pruned in winter while young, but are later best pruned in summer. They can be at risk of catching the diseases silver leaf and bacterial canker if large branches, those thicker than your wrist, are pruned in autumn or winter.

Pruning Eucalyptus Trees
Cobham Tree Surgeon Pruning Tree

How to carry out formative pruning of trees

Most ornamental trees are trained in a central-leader standard, with a clear trunk and a head, or canopy, of branches.

Forming a central-leader standard tree

Young trees can be trained to grow as standards with a 1-2m (3¼-6½ft) trunk.

Where trees grow with a clear central-leading branch that grows upwards ahead of the other branches, it is important not to cut this central leader, as this could spoil the final shape of the tree.

Year one

  • Remove all side branches from the lower third of the main stem
  • Shorten by half all the sideshoots on the middle third of the main stem
  • Leave the sideshoots on the top third of the main stem unpruned, apart from the removal of dead, diseased or damaged growth
  • Cut to outward facing buds, so that the resulting growth extends outwards rather than into the centre of the tree

Year two

  • Remove completely the sideshoots that were shortened by half in year one (which should be now be in the lower third of the tree)
  • Shorten by half the sideshoots on the middle third of the tree
  • Remove any crossing or misplaced branches in the upper third of the tree

Year three

  • Follow the same steps as for year two.

Years four and five

  • Clear the trunk of side branches to the height desired
  • Continue to remove any crossing, dead, diseased or misplaced branches from the canopy

Then proceed as for a mature specimen, following the advice for the tree in question from a book such as: RHS Pruning & Training by Christopher Brickell and David Joyce, available to buy online from the RHS Book Shop.

Growing a central-leader standard as a branched-head standard to control its size

Some trees, oaks for example, develop as central-leader standards while they are young, but then lose their leader naturally after a number of years, and develop as branched-head standards.

It is possible to reduce the final height of trees that would otherwise grow as central-leader standards by removing the leader and pruning as a branched-head standard.

It is advisable to check in a book first as to whether this technique is suitable for the tree in question, as some trees can be spoiled in shape by premature removal of the leader.

Years one to three

Follow the steps above as for a central-leader standard.

Year four

  • Remove the leading shoot, cutting to an uppermost strong sideshoot
  • Leave three or four sideshoots in the top third of the tree unpruned to form the branches of the branched-head canopy. Only remove any badly placed branches or those that are crossing or rubbing
  • Shorten the sideshoots on the middle third of the tree by two-thirds, leaving stubs that can form replacement branches if needed
  • Remove all sideshoots from the lower third of the tree, to start creating a clear trunk
  • Remove any strongly upward-growing branches that threaten to dominate the canopy

Year five

  • Remove any crossing or rubbing branches
  • Shorten the canopy branches and sideshoots a little to balance the shape. Cut to an outward facing bud to encourage open growth
  • Clear the desired height of trunk of any growth. If new growth is stimulated from the trunk by this pruning, rub off the shoots as soon as they emerge

Where upright shoots threaten to compete with the leader of a central-leader standard tree, then a single leading shoot will have to be selected, and the others removed. Choose one that is upright and in line with rest of the tree.

Where the leader is broken by wind, snow or accidental damage, then cut it back to a strong side shoot that is growing fairly vertically. Attach a cane to this side shoot and tie the shoot in to the cane as it extends, training it upwards as a new leader.

A tree may need pruning for a variety of reasons:

  • to remove diseased or storm-damaged branches
  • to thin the crown to permit new growth and better air circulation
  • to reduce the height of a tree
  • to remove obstructing lower branches
  • to shape a tree for design purposes

Once the decision has been made to prune, your next decision is whether or not to tackle the job yourself. In the case of a large tree where you want to remove big branches in the upper area of the crown, it may be best to hire experts. Large tree pruning, in particular, can require climbing and heavy saws or even cherry-pickers and chain saws. This is a job that should be left to trained and experienced professionals. Never compromise personal safety in pruning a tree.

When a tree has outgrown its space in the garden, it will need to be reduced in size. It is better to do this sooner, rather than later, as the longer it is left, the harder it is to prune and less likely to recover.

Trees also might need to be pruned and therefore reduced in size if they have dead, diseased, crossing or torn branches.

It is usually best to try and keep tree (and shrub) growth under control with regular pruning, but this is not always practical, especially if you inherit overgrown trees and shrubs in a new garden.