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The Basics of Tree Trimming

July 31 2010

There is nothing like a home that features beautiful trees in the yard. But trees can harm a home if they’re not properly cared for. Whether you’re a do-it-your-selfer or a homeowner who hires contractors, knowing how to keep your trees properly pruned is essential to maintaining your property. 

Tree branches that grow too close to a home and its roof can be hazardous, as falling debris, limbs and leaves can clog gutters and cause structural damage. While there’s no hard and fast rule, a tree should be trimmed far back enough from the house to comfortably hedge any potential risk to your home. A distance of four to six feet is good, keeping in mind how much branches can bend toward the house in wind and rain. The worst case scenario is that the tree needs to be permanently removed, but a new one can be planted a little further away to replace it.

Trimming branches has other benefits than protecting your home from damage. According to Urban Forestry Specialist James P. Rocca, pruned branches can eliminate crowding among other trees, eliminate the risk posed to electrical wiring, and reduce insect and disease infestations.

So when is the best time to prune trees?

Most trees have particular times when they should and shouldn’t be trimmed due to the likelihood of disease infection and insect infestation. Most trees, like maples and dogwoods, do best if you avoid trimming between April and October and instead trim during the late fall and winter months. Oaks should be cut during the heat of summer, says yardnote.com, but winter trimming will suffice as well.

One popular practice is called topping, where all the branches are trimmed to a specific height for a neat and orderly look. But that may not be the best way to treat your trees. With topping, you run the risk of having too many open wounds for your tree to heal at one time. According to Rocca, topping allows the trees to be even more susceptible to insects and internal rot, which “will often continue unchecked.”

Topping can also retard the growth of the tree, and in some cases even totally altar the canopy of the tree. As detailed on treeboss.net, silver maples, when topped, grow thin vertical branches that give the tree a “hat rack” appearance. So instead of topping, do a safe trimming that takes no more than 25% of the living branches at a time.

Also, you should avoid having your branches cropped too close to the trunk while also not leaving too long of a stump. When cropped to close you damage the tree’s natural defense system in what is called the collar, which is where the branch is separated from trunk according to ces.ncsu.edu. When a limb is left too long the tree has a more difficult time healing as the extra length saps resources.

Find out what kind of trees you have and ask your local nursery, or look up care for that particular tree by googling online, but even then, knowing the kind of tree may not be enough to prune it correctly.

There are over 400 types of oak trees alone, so contact local tree trimming experts and nurseries for advice. They should also be equipped to prune your trees professionally, with a diesel bucket that lifts the technician to the highest branches, and they should also be equipped to remove the debris with chippers.

If you want to do the trimming yourself, start with equipment you can rent yourself, and start with visibly dead branches before trimming any branches with leaves. Find out where at the trees joint to cut, to protect the health of the tree.