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Horticulture and Landscape Architecture
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Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078

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Tree Pruning Basics

by Keith Reed

We will soon be approaching the ideal time of year to do corrective pruning on most ornamental trees. Exceptions are those plants that might be a little bit cold sensitive including fruit trees and evergreens; these should be pruned in the very early spring after the threat of the deepest cold has passed. Please keep the following tips in mind if you do your own tree care.

First and foremost is safety. Tree pruning or removal can be dangerous in a number of ways. Always make sure you have a thorough understanding of proper chainsaw operation and maintenance. If any piece of equipment screams read the operator’s manual, it is the chainsaw. Not only will the manual provide helpful tips for keeping the saw itself in top shape, you will also learn proper technique to prevent injury from kickback, premature felling, or damage caused by swinging limbs.

Ladders can be almost as dangerous as chainsaws (and the combination of the two can be lethal). ALWAYS check for nearby power lines and other utilities. Also think about worse case scenarios when it comes to ladder placement. Ask yourself “what happens if I fall off” or “which way do I go if this limb falls and takes the ladder out”? This thought process should even be a part of tree work when you are standing on solid ground as large limbs can impart more damage than the untrained person can possibly imagine.

The size of limbs high up in a tree can easily be underestimated. Keep in mind that a cubic foot of wood can weigh 70-80 lbs. Don’t overlook key safety items like eye protection, long sleeves, and gloves. Also, if you have overhead wires close by, verify they will not be in the way of a falling limb as you prune.

Trees should not be pruned just for the sake of pruning. Remove limbs only on an as-needed basis. Examples include dead or diseased wood, suckers or “water spouts”, limbs crossing or rubbing on each other, and structural pruning for small trees to make sure they develop a strong structure. OSU Fact Sheet HLA-6415 Training Young Shade and Ornamental Trees and EPP- 7323 Managing Storm-Damaged Trees provide detailed information on correct procedure.

At one time, it was thought that applying tar or “pruning paint” would help tree cuts to heal properly. Research has shown this to be untrue. As long as a proper pruning cut is made, the tree will normally heal just fine.

For more information of this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

Oklahoma State University, in compliance with Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246 as amended, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and other federal laws and regulations, does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, age, religion, disability, or status as a veteran in any of its policies

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