Historically speaking, tree pruning is a relatively recent phenomenon, developed as a necessity when trees began to be planted in close proximity to where people lived, worked, or congregated.
It’s just not a pleasant feeling when a branch falls on your house, your car, or on your head.
For centuries, trees were kept exclusively in the forest. The idea of planting one next to where you lived was never considered.
But then, beginning with the industrial revolution in the late 18th century, as masses of people moved to the city and abandoned rural life, a nostalgia for the countryside led to thoughts of planting trees within urban settings.
Parks were established to assuage the stress brought on by the hectic pace of urban living and to reconnect with nature. And then, as suburban houses were built and you had some extra space in front and back, trees become an essential amenity of the home environment.
When it comes to tree pruning, less is more. Never remove more than a third of a tree’s canopy at one time. If you remove more than that, rank growth will return that is weak and susceptible to breakage and to pests.
Pruning is like taxes. You can put off paying them and even skip them altogether, but the longer you delay, the more severe the penalty will be when you finally have to face the music. A tree planted close to a house, unlike its forest counterpart, is always in a compromised condition since growth on the side facing the house will suffer from lack of air circulation and insufficient sunlight — an open invitation to fungus and insect pests to come aboard. Or the tree may lean dangerously away from the house until it topples over.
If you are going to prune a tree yourself, use the three-cut method for removal of large branches. The first cut is made from below (an undercut), no more than one-third of the way through the branch. This cut should be made a foot or more away from the trunk, depending on the branch diameter. The second cut (top cut) is made from above, in the usual manner, an inch to the outside of the undercut. While making the top cut, the branch will break back to where the undercut was made, without ripping off part of the trunk.
The third cut — made from above or below — removes the remaining stub but should be made at the branch collar (a swollen portion of the trunk at the branch base) and never flush to the trunk. Flush cuts are prone to bacterial and fungal infections and, if made in summer, attract insect pests as well. Do not seal any pruning cuts since trees grow healing tissue, known as callose, on their own.
Sunset Pruning Handbook, by Roy Hudson, available through Internet book sellers, is an excellent guide to pruning garden ornamentals and fruit trees.
Roses are best pruned now. Before pruning, remove any leaves still on the plants since this will allow them to experience some measure of dormancy. Make cuts at a 45 degree angle just above buds since this will allow raindrops to drain off the cut surfaces. Make cuts at buds that point outward, away from the center of the plants, since you want growth to assume a vase shape. Buds (just barely visible as bud eyes) grow in the direction that they point. Between the base of every leaf and its stem, you will find a bud eye, however so small.
If you seek large flowers, if not that many, in the first flush of roses that will bloom this spring, prune canes down to 18 inches in height. For more roses, but of a smaller size, prune canes to a height of three feet.
According to Sally Joy, of the American Rose Society, healthy stem cuttings — of a pencil size diameter or more — from roses stuck in the ground this time of year have an excellent chance of rooting. Of course, the soil will need to be plant friendly, meaning it drains well, for this to happen.
Tip of the Week: The largest flowers you will ever see on a vine, and probably anywhere else, are starting to open now and will continue to do so into the spring. They are chalice shaped and up to ten inches long. Coming from the Central American tropics and known as cup of gold, this vine (Solandra maxima) does require more water than the average plant if you live in one of our hot valleys. Still, it’s worth the extra attention. You can find a nursery that will special order this vine for you by going to smgrowers.com and clicking on “Retail Locator” on the left side of the home page. Plant parts may be toxic but, then again, the same is true of most species of the nightshade family (including tomato, potato, eggplant, and chili pepper), of which cup of gold is a member.