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When’s the best time to prune a tree, and what’s the correct way to prune them?

When’s the best time for tree pruning? Well, when to prune trees is often a subject of intense debate. The real answer to the question of when is the best time to prune a tree will depend on your reasons for pruning in the first place. Light pruning and the removal of dead wood can be done anytime. In all other cases the timing depends on which species of tree you are considering pruning. Here are Ladybrook Nursery’s top tips for ornamental tree pruning. We hope you find the information useful.

Deciduous trees

• Deciduous trees which lose their leaves in winter are usually best pruned in autumn and winter. In some cases, for example with magnolias and walnuts, pruning is best done in late summer, as healing is quicker.
• Trees such as Prunus, which are prone to silver leaf disease, are best pruned from April to July when the disease spores are not on the wind, and the tree sap is rising rather than falling. By pruning at this time you will be helping to push out infection rather than drawing it in.
• Some trees can bleed sap if pruned in late winter and early spring. Whilst this is seldom fatal, it can be unsightly and can weaken the tree. Birches and walnuts often bleed if pruned at the wrong time.

Evergreen trees

• Evergreen trees seldom need pruning, although dead and diseased branches can be removed in late summer.

How to prune trees

• Before undertaking any work you should establish whether a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) is in place, or if the tree is located in a Conservation Area. If this proves to be the case, you should seek permission from your local council before beginning work. Potentially dangerous limbs can, in theory, be removed without permission but the penalties for breaching the legislation, inadvertently or not, can be severe.
• Safety is of prime importance when working with trees, so know your physical limits, and assess the area in which any branches may fall. Erect warning signs or barriers if necessary before beginning. If in any doubt engage the services of a professionally qualified tree surgeon or aboriculturist.
• Make sure you know what pruning needs to be done to produce a balanced, attractive tree. Work with the natural habit of the tree to shorten or remove branches. Going against the tree’s natural habit produces ungainly trees that lack grace.
• Always start by removing damaged, dead, diseased shoots, followed by weak, lax or rubbing growth.
• Wear protective gloves and, if necessary, eye and head protection
• When cutting a stem, cut just above a healthy bud, pair of buds or side shoot. Where possible, cut to an outward facing bud or branch to avoid congestion and rubbing of branches
• Make your cut 0.5cm (¼in) above the bud. Beware cutting too close, as this can induce death of the bud. Beware cutting too far from the bud, as this can result in dieback of the stub and entry of rots and other infections
• When removing larger limbs, make an undercut first about 20-30cm (8in-1ft) from the trunk, and follow this with an overcut. This will prevent the bark tearing, leaving a clean stub when the branch is severed
• Then remove the stub, first making a small undercut just outside the branch collar (the slight swelling where the branch joins the trunk), followed by an overcut to meet the undercut, angling the cut away from the trunk to produce a slope that sheds rain
• Avoid cutting flush to the trunk as the collar is the tree’s natural protective zone where healing takes place
• There is no need to use wound paints, as they are not thought to contribute to healing or prevent disease. The exception is plums and cherries (Prunus), where wound paint may be used to exclude silver leaf disease spores.

If pruning cuts bleed sap, don’t bandage or bind the cut: attempts to stem the bleeding are likely to be unsuccessful and may impede rather than aid healing.

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