Let there be light


By Mike McCabe, Certified Arborist

Too often during this time of year, with the holidays in full flower and family commitments at their seasonal peak, homeowners delay landscape maintenance priorities such as pruning their large shrubs and trees.  Delays, however, can be costly.

By putting your trees on a care program with regular cycles of nourishment, soil conditioning, and proper pruning, you will ensure that they will have improved structure, health and beauty all year long.  And, your trees will better survive potential weather events and storm damage.

Structural pruning is a term used by arborists that refers to the shaping of trees typically done in winter, before trees break their dormancy.  This procedure promotes a sound tree structure, opens up the tree canopy to let in light and air, promotes the plant’s natural shape, removes dead wood, and eliminates dying branches that may have been previously injured by disease, insects, or storm damage.

Winter is the best time to tidy and prune trees for several reasons.  First of all, the loss of leaves in deciduous trees provides arborists and technicians enhanced visibility to evaluate structural problems.  Without foliage to obstruct the view, it’s easier to make the best aesthetic and technical pruning decisions.    Winter is also a good time to prune because the trees are dormant.  This means that fresh cuts will only be exposed for a short period of time until spring growth seals pruning wounds.

Proper pruning also helps protect trees from the toll that heavy ice and snow can take on all trees, including live oaks, magnolias and other evergreens when the weight of the snow on branches can break limbs from the trunk and cause liability and safety concerns.


Pruning 101 – What you need to know:

  1. Proper pruning prevents and corrects health problems.
  2. Pruning keeps trees from becoming or looking lopsided.
  3. Certified, licensed arborists are highly trained and well educated in how trees grow and what makes them weak.
  4. Pruning should be part of an overall commitment to the health of your trees that also includes a regular program of organic plant health care, including fertilization, root zone conditioning, and insect prevention.
  5. Proper pruning is essential to create a tree with a sound structure and aesthetic form.
  6. Trees that receive proper and appropriate pruning when young will require less corrective pruning when they mature.
  7. Pruning has the potential to change the way the tree grows and how long it lives.
  8. Postponing pruning can create the need to make corrective action or make larger cuts. These can make it more difficult for the wounds to heal.
  9. Most routine pruning can be accomplished at any time of the year. However, winter – or before spring growth – is the best time to prune to ensure a healthy structure because growth is maximized.
  10. Pruning decisions depend on the tree’s size, species, and age, as well as the objectives of desired outcome.  Pruning large trees can sometimes be dangerous and often requires specialized equipment and skills.  Professional certified arborists are usually supported by the services of a highly specialized and trained crew, and have all of the required safety equipment and liability insurance in place.  Hire a professional!  Look for membership in professional organizations such as the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA), or the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA).

About the author:  Mike McCabe is a Certified Arborist with Moore Tree, a member of the Lambert Landscape family of companies.  Mmccabe@mooretreecare.com

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