There's so much more to a great yard than just mowing the lawn.

Structural Pruning of Trees Explained

Trees are wonderful things. They add value to your home and make your yard a more enjoyable place to be. Since most yards are too small to have many trees, it’s important to take good care of the trees you have. Trees are one of the most valuable parts of the landscape, and the most difficult to replace if they break or die. One study estimated that a house with a tree is worth $7,000 more than a similar home without a tree. Investing some money in caring for your trees makes sense.

How much is my tree worth?

If you’re interested in calculating the value of trees in your yard, check out the neat tree benefit calculator. There is also a set of great tools at i-Tree.

Why should trees be pruned?

Colorado can have really wild weather, from very high winds to wet heavy snows. Both of these weather events can cause tree damage. It’s important to note that tree damage is preventable, in part. One of the reasons why trees break is because poor growth patterns were not corrected early in their life. Some trees develop two main trunks, which are very prone to storm damage. Other trees develop aggressive lower branches that easily split away from the main trunk. It’s sad to have a tree experience major damage in a storm, but it’s more tragic if the tree damages a car or house in the process.

One thing you can do to help your trees grow into strong trees that resist storm damage is to have them pruned to encourage good structure while they are young. It’s sort of like investing in braces for your child’s teeth when they are little. Correcting potential problems early can pay off far into the future. In addition, early pruning will make a tree more attractive, with a more balanced appearance.

Most homeowners don’t even think about pruning their trees until they break. They assume that they naturally grow in the “right” way. This is not true. There’s a lot of growth that should be managed or removed, or it can cause problems later on. Having a tree pruned is good for it.

When to prune a tree

If you’ve just planted a tree, don’t prune it right away. Wait until the tree has grown a new root system and you notice the branches are putting on a significant amount of growth. This might be two or three years after planting. You don’t want to prune a recently planted tree since it causes more stress on the tree. One you see this significant growth, think about planning for structural pruning.

Hiring a professional

Don’t feel shy about hiring a tree care professional to structurally prune your tree. My opinion is that this is a wise investment to pay someone who has knowledge and experience to set your tree on a good path. You only have to have a tree structurally pruned every three years in the early years of its life. So it will not be an ongoing expense.

Keep in mind that the landscape industry is essentially unregulated in Colorado. That means there are a lot of “professionals” out there that are not professional at all; they have no more knowledge than you do, but they do have a truck and a chainsaw. When investing in structural pruning, hire a tree care professional that is certified by the International Society of Arboriculture. If they do not hold this certification hire someone else, even if it costs more. This is the only measure you have to weigh if someone has received any training in tree care. If two potential contractors carry the certification, I would hire the person who either has a university degree in horticulture or who has more experience. Both count for a great deal.

Can you do it yourself?

Sure. If you are pretty interested in trees and are willing to spend some time learning about pruning, you could do this yourself. Go here to investigate pruning. Even though the information is from Florida, Dr. Gilman really did write the textbook on pruning that most tree care professionals follow. Be sure to spend some time reviewing how to make pruning cuts, since incorrect pruning cuts can eventually kill a tree. You don’t want to goof that part up. You may also want to review this material if you are planning to hire someone to help you evaluate how knowledgeable the landscape professional is. Another valuable sources is the information from the Colorado State University Extension Master Gardener Program.

If you’re going to prune your tree yourself, consider pruning it in late February to March. That’s the best time to prune most trees, except those that produce excess sap at that time of year. According to Colorado State University Extension, if you have one of the trees listed here, it’s best to wait until mid-summer to prune.

Common Trees That Should Be Pruned in Mid-Summer

  • Birch
  • Black locust
  • Elm
  • Goldenchain tree
  • Hackberry
  • Japanese pagoda tree
  • Kentucky coffee tree
  • Maple
  • Mulberry
  • Poplar
  • Walnut
  • Willow

What if you didn’t prune your tree when it was young?

If you have a medium or large tree, it still may be worth having the trees pruned. A tree care professional may not be able to fix all potential problems, but they may be able to give you a sense of any potential red flags and minimize serious risks. Most tree care professionals will give you a free initial visit.

Even if you’re not planning on staying in your house long, it’s still worth structurally pruning a tree. Not only does it benefit the future homeowner and community, trees pruned professionally increase the curb appeal of a home.

Rest assured that by investing in your trees through structural pruning, you will be rewarded with healthy and attractive trees for many years to come. It’s time and money well spent.

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