I hope anyone who really wants to understand the importance of formative pruning was able to check out the pictures of the splitting Maple we posted on our web site. It is an excellent example of the poor structure that can develop from not performing formative pruning to a young tree.
This is something we are seeing more frequently. As the area grows and space becomes limited, landscape designs are incorporating more slender and narrow growing trees. Take parking lots as examples. At these sites every parking space is important. For this reason, trees with spreading crowns that would grow into parking spaces and vehicles are avoided. Trees with upright form however are desired as their crowns stay tight and narrow. This type of tree however tends to develop tight “V” shaped branch attachments or crotches. It is even more important for these trees to have formative pruning as they grow.
Another question that arose from people was, what about Conifers or Evergreen trees? I realized that I wrote about formative pruning without qualifying that I was mainly speaking about young deciduous trees, but the question made a great point. Yes, formative pruning can be of great value to Conifers and Evergreens. The same lesson applies to Evergreens and Conifers as in the splitting Maple tree. A double top in a Conifer or Evergreen is often a tight “V” attachment just like the Maple and can split apart especially in a wind storm.
At our house, we have two sides of the Property in Blue Spruce and Grand Fir trees as privacy screens. As these young Conifers have grown, a few of them developed double tops. Left un-pruned, they would have develop into co-dominate stems years later. I would step out on a limb (pun intended) and say over fifty percent of tree failure calls we get during windy days are from a Conifer that had a double top as a young tree, and it grew into a weakly attached co-dominate stem. The force of the wind on the crown puts severe strain on the spot where the two tops connect and down one comes.
As always, for further questions consultations or quotes, give us a call today!
Last week we defined Formative Pruning as pruning cuts made to correct structural defects of young trees. While I am a proponent of not pruning a newly planted tree for the first few years of growth, formative pruning may be needed. For example, sometimes heading cuts were performed by the tree grower or nursery to stimulate a thicker crown. Corrective pruning will be needed to ensure good form and structure. Again, remember last week’s analogy of a little corrective pruning done as a tree develops prevents a “Wild Child” with bad habits down the road.
An all too common scenario often plays out like this. I will be standing in a yard looking at a Red Maple tree, such as an Autumn Blaze or Autumn Flame with a customer. It has been ten to twelve years since they planted the tree. They called us because they are concerned it might need some “pruning” attention. Throughout the crown I see plenty of rubbing, crowded and crossing limbs. These can easily be addressed with proper structure pruning. What has me really concerned however is in the center of the tree. Shortly after the tree was planted it developed a codominant top. This could have easily been remedied with a simple pruning cut eliminating one of the two tops and the tree to develop a central leader. Now though, the tree has grown, and these two competing stems are a major part of this trees structure and the structure is bad. Real bad! (see our website for an actual picture) The two once competing tops are now the two major stems of the tree. This not only formed a poor branch crotch, it is in fact splitting! At this point serious cabling, bracing and pruning will be needed to keep the tree from splitting in half. I might even recommend removal and replacement of the entire tree. To me this is a very frustrating situation as it is not only the potential loss of the tree, but a loss of ten to fifteen growing years! The exasperating part of all is that one small formative prune done to this tree when it was young could have prevented it.
This is the perfect time to address those young trees while they are still dormant.
When explaining the reason to prune young trees to people, I often use the similarity to parenting children. Small but corrective adjustments to a child’s behavior as they grow will ensure they mature into productive members of society. The same principal applies to young trees. If small but corrective pruning is performed as the tree grows, the tree will develop good form, shape, and be a structurally sound contribution to a yard and the overall property value.
Adversely, if no proper parenting happens and poor behavior goes unchecked, chances are a “wild child” will develop with plenty of challenges as a young adult. The same with young trees left unpruned as they develop. I have been invited to plenty of homes where we stand in front of a tree and a customer says, “I have never had it pruned and it is kind of a wild child at this point. What can you do?”
We can always do something. At this point it is called, major “Structure Pruning”. This may take a few years of severe corrective style pruning to deal with poor form and structure. Small, indiscriminate pruning during the development of a tree to avoid poor structural defects is called “Formative Pruning” The question often arises, how soon should I do this formative pruning to my tree. That’s an excellent question. It can be performed as soon as the end of that growing season depending on the species and size of the tree. A young Norway Maple coming from a nursery with good form and structure may not need anything for three to five years. A Prairie Fire Crab Apple may need a formative prune its first year and each year after that to a certain stage due to its growing tendencies.
Right now, is an excellent time to do this pruning while the trees are still dormant despite the snow on the ground.