Can Trees Die if You Don’t Prune Them?
Written by: Keith Glaznap Certified Arborist #WI0678A
Each year I field a number of questions from clients. One common question that I am asked is, “Can my tree die if I don’t have it pruned?” Technically it can.
While a tree will not directly die from a lack of pruning, neglecting the structure of a tree can impact its long-term health. Lack of pruning in a tree can lead to structural defects. These structural defects can result in significant portions of a tree failing. If a tree that sustains a limb failure then needs to be removed, it technically has died from not being pruned.
Structural defects can also lead to branch failure resulting in certain tree species being infected by a deadly disease. An example of this would be an open wound created in an oak or elm tree resulting in the tree being infected with oak wilt or Dutch elm disease respectively. In either case, the likely outcome will be a dead tree and pruning defective limbs out might have helped avoid this.
Pruning your trees is not a guarantee that the above scenarios would never happen. These scenarios happen all of the time. To illustrate how often defective branches fail, our production crews attended to storm damage the entire month of July this past summer in response to our clients’ needs. Not only is this costly to the clients, but it can be heartbreaking to lose a tree that has become an important part of your landscape.
To reduce the chances of your trees failing someday you can begin by pruning them within the first few years of having them planted. At this point, it is relatively easy and inexpensive to develop the tree’s structure by encouraging a central leader, strong branch unions, and good branch spacing. Pruning trees within the first 2-4 years after having them planted is the most critical time frame to begin pruning them for good structure. Sadly, this time frame is also the most overlooked because people don’t realize how important it is.
Once a young tree has been pruned initially it is important to continue pruning it as it grows. Regular pruning will help to maintain the best structural integrity possible throughout the tree’s life. Younger trees may need pruning once every 2-4 years depending on how fast they are growing. Trees that are older may only need pruning once every 5-7 years. Mature trees most likely will need deadwood pruning only and if they are healthy this could be done effectively once every 7-10 years.
What about older trees that have never been pruned? Pruning is necessary for these trees as well to help better manage whatever structure is present. Reducing risk and failure potential is still the primary goal here. Perhaps some corrective pruning could even be completed over a period of years to help slowly mold the tree’s structure into a more positive state.
One last thing to keep in mind is that not all pruning is equal. There is a right way and a wrong way. Poor pruning can have a permanent and detrimental effect on the tree. Hiring a professional that understands the biology of a tree, the characteristics of each species and the industry standards for pruning operations are extremely important. Pruning is an art and a science. Wachtel Tree Science offers you an entire sales staff and nearly an entire production staff of experienced Certified Arborists. We are a highly trained and well-educated group of tree care professionals ready to assist you with your tree care needs. Call your Wachtel Tree Science Arborist today and have your trees evaluated for pruning needs!