Tree Age Matters When Pruning

By: Jeff Hagfors, Certified Arborist WI-0181A

Fall 2004 Newsletter in Adobe PDF format When pruning, the professional arborist must consider the health and life stage of the tree before making even the first pruning cut.

Professional tree pruning is the single best investment homeowners can make to improve the health, beauty and survival of their trees. However, improper pruning done by untrained tree cutters or selfproclaimed arborists can severely damage and even kill healthy trees. Wachtel Tree Science and Service has 15 experienced Certified Arborists on staff, the largest of any professional tree care firm in Wisconsin.

Professional tree pruning is where science meets art. Wachtel’s professional arborists are trained to meet these important criteria. The professional arborist must have a thorough understanding of the American National Standards Institute ANSI pruning classifications. Crown thinning, crown cleaning, deadwood pruning and training pruning are the only recognized classifications used to describe pruning. Great thought, care and knowledge are prerequisites for making the first pruning cut. Considering the life stage and health of the tree, in addition to a complete understanding of the ANSI pruning classifications are where the professional arborist begins.

The first stage of tree life is referred to as establishment. These very young or newly transplanted trees spend great amounts of their energy in promoting root growth. Any remaining energy goes into maintaining top growth. Little or no leaf tissue should be removed during this life stage and pruning should be limited to dead and damaged branches—deadwood pruning or a very light crown cleaning. These young trees are relying on the food they produce in their leaves to fuel plant growth. (Improperly planted trees may never become established or advance to the next life stage.)

The second stage of tree life is referred to as juvenile. Juvenile trees are already established and are now utilizing most of their energy for top growth. Adequate amounts of energy remain in the balance to fight off insect and disease attacks. Because of this, juvenile trees grow at their fastest pace compared to any other time in their life. This is the time to make corrective pruning decisions—training pruning. The professional Wachtel arborist knows this and will make thoughtful pruning decisions that are needed for the future structure and health of the tree.

 

Mature—the third stage of tree life is also the longest. Tree growth continues at a slower, but ever steady pace. Large supplies of stored energy reserves are in place and can effectively combat insect and disease pressure, as well as environmental damage like drought or floods. Yet the mature tree is no longer able to outgrow disease and decay pathogens. The preferred pruning type to be performed on mature trees is a crown cleaning. A crown thinning can also be done to promote improved structure through selective thinning cuts of live branches if your Wachtel arborist deems this to be an appropriate standard. Additionally, properly installed lightning protection systems and cabling systems should be installed to mature trees that have significant value.

The fourth stage of a tree’s life is referred to as over-mature. Growth is very slow and stored reserves are at much lower levels. The over-mature tree is in a delicate balance with its site. The over-mature tree is one that can be easily disrupted; while it may yet be healthy, it can easily be damaged by excessive or improper pruning. Insect and disease pressures, as well as decay organisms, may inflict great harm to an over-mature tree. The ideal pruning type for the over-mature tree may be limited to deadwood pruning or crown cleaning. With proper professional pruning, the over-mature tree can have many years of usefulness left.

In the final, declining, stage of a tree’s life, they are often the victims of a traumatic experience. Construction damage, lightning strikes, storm damage and improper or excessive pruning are just a few of the traumas a tree may have encountered in its earlier life stages. Because of these traumas, declining trees can occur at any age. Any invading disease and decay pressures are far too great now for the declining tree to combat. The declining tree may yet have some usefulness to the landscape but needs to be carefully monitored by a professional arborist.

You can trust the experienced, knowledgeable and professional Certified Arborists at Wachtel Tree Science and Service. We are able to help you care for all of your trees, no matter what stage of life they are in. Since 1935, we have been caring for generations of trees. Don’t settle for anything less than the best.

© Copyright 2005 – Wachtel Tree Science & Service, Inc.

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