By Steve Zimmerman
Happy New Year’s, Adams County. The winter wait now begins for the start of the new gardening season. While we’re waiting, there are still some gardening tasks yet to perform (weather permitting) during the winter months.
One of the tasks I tackle this time of year is pruning my flowering ornamental trees—crabapples, flowering plums, flowering cherries, and flowering pears. This group of ornamentals typically has a mature height of less than 25 feet and width of about the same. Due to their growth tendencies, yearly selective pruning is recommended for maintaining their appearance and health and also to encourage more vigorous bloom in the spring.
One characteristic of the flowering ornamental is the tendency to have growth coming from the roots or “suckers.” Many ornamental trees we use today are a result of grafting, a method of propagation where the stem of one tree is grown on the stalk or root of another. You may be able to observe a significant difference in the appearance of the bark somewhere on the main trunk of your tree—this usually indicates the site of the graft. The sucker branches growing up from the roots or below the graft line should be removed.
The growth habits of many of these trees also dictate a recommended annual trimming. Look for branches that are crossovers, causing them to rub or touch one another. One of these branches should be removed because the rubbing can create sites for opportunistic pests and diseases.
The canopy of ornamentals may also need to be raised to keep branches off the ground and prevent hazards when mowing. Dense interior growth should be removed, keeping in mind that you are allowing more sunlight and airflow to penetrate the tree. Any dead or diseased branches should be removed.
The winter months are an excellent time to do this pruning for a few reasons; the lack of foliage makes for much easier cleanup, allows for a clear view of all branching, and it’s also a great opportunity for the gardener to be outside.
Now that we have discussed the “whys,” let’s talk about the “hows.” Tools, first and foremost, need to be properly sharpened and in good working order. I recommend a pair of quality hand pruners, a pole pruner with a pruning head and a saw blade attachment, and a pair of hand loppers. A small chain saw may be needed if you have not trimmed your trees in quite a while.
It’s important to remember when pruning that branches are removed at the correct site to ensure proper healing. To locate the proper place to cut your branch, you need to find the branch collar. This is the raised area on the underside of the base of the branch. On the top side of the branch, look for an area that is also slightly raised called the branch-bark ridge. Your cuts need to be made as close as possible to the branch-bark ridge and the branch collar without damaging either one. Damage to either of these sites may result in improper healing.
When removing partial branches, always remember to make your cuts at a bud. Always use the three-cut method when removing large branches. The first cut should be made 12 inches from the trunk of the tree halfway through the bottom side of the branch. The second cut should be made 10 inches from the trunk cutting completely through, starting from the top side of the branch. This method allows for large branch removal without ripping any bark. The final cut is made at the branch-bark ridge and branch collar.
Remember, this is selective trimming, which means it is important to take the time to step back and evaluate your work throughout the process.
Routine trimming creates a healthier ornamental tree that you can enjoy for many years.
Steve and Laurie Zimmerman have owned and operated Zimmerman’s Azalea Gardens and Landscaping in Adams County since 1992. Visit their website at www.zaglandscaping.com.