Tips for Pruning Young Shade Trees

Planting shade trees on your property is an investment in the future. It may take a few years, but eventually and with proper care, these trees will become an integral part of your landscaping. Proper trimming is necessary to ensure the best form and the healthiest growth so that these young trees will one day provide plenty of shade.

1. Put Off Initial Pruning

Most newly planted trees require little to no pruning in their first year. The only time you should make cuts on a newly planted sapling is if any of the branches are damaged or dead. In this case, cut back to a bud on the nearest healthy wood, or trim back the branch flush with the small collar of wood that attaches branch to trunk.

2. Choose One Leader

Inspect the branches the first spring following planting. There should be only one main upright stem or trunk, with all horizontal lattice branches attaching to this trunk. If there is more than one trunk, which is also called the leader, then you need to choose the strongest one and trim out the competitors. Your shade tree will have better form and healthier growth if trained to a single leader.

3. Watch for Suckers

Suckers are weak, whip-like stems that grow from the base of the tree or low on the trunk. Cut these off as soon as they appear. Not only are they unattractive, but these quick-growing stems can also sap energy and weaken a young tree. A similar growth form, called waterspouts, can also grow upward from the lattice branches. Trim out any waterspouts you find in the canopy, cutting them flush to the branch they emerge from.

4. Trim Out Problem Wood

Problem wood is any branch that is diseased, damaged, dead, or had poor growth form. One example of poor form is branches that cross and rub together. Another example is those branches that connect to the trunk at a weak angle, which is either at an angle greater than 90 degrees or less than 45 degrees.

5. Raise the Canopy

You may need to raise the canopy of the tree between two and four years after planting. To do this, the small, weak branches low on the trunk are trimmed off. Removing these earlier in the tree's life isn't recommended since these thin branches do protect the bark of young trees from sunscald. By raising the canopy and removing these branches, though, you make it easier to walk underneath your shade trees.

Contact a local tree trimming service for more help.