Renovation & Design

Sharpen your pruning tools (and knowledge)

Be mindful of disease risks while trimming branches

Michael Allen / Winnipeg Free Press

Prune trees and shrubs while they are dormant in early spring or fall.

With the spring season upon us, many property owners head out to clean up their yard.

In that process, shrubs and trees are pruned. Although woody plants are best pruned when they are dormant in early spring and fall, a great deal of pruning occurs in May.

The warming trend southern Manitoba is currently experiencing does not provide ideal conditions for pruning many fruit tree varieties. Exposing the twigs and branches of fruit trees can make them susceptible to infection from lethal diseases such as fire blight and apple scab.

Plan on sharpening your pruning tools if you haven’t done so already in preparation for pruning. If you are not familiar with how to sharpen your tools properly, there is always the Internet to assist you.

Every year, I conduct pruning workshops for shade trees, woody shrubs and evergreen conifer trees and shrubs in the early spring and fall. I will even demonstrate the proper sharpening of tools. I do not work with chainsaws in my workshops for legal and insurance reasons. I do this through the Louis Riel School Division continuing education department, but you must register for those programs. I provide easy-to-follow information, along with diagrams to assist the novice pruner. Of course, you can contact me any time for information about pruning trees and shrubs.

In Manitoba, as many people now know, it is illegal to fruit all elm trees after March 31 in any one year. Elms can be legally pruned after Aug. 1.

Right now, look at your shrubs and trees and see the expanding buds, which — if they haven’t done so already — will produce new leaves. Those twigs and branches that remain bare can be pruned off now unless they are elms.

The pruning of dead woody material should be your first course of action. Always prune twigs and branches at their point of origin on a larger branch or on the trunk. Never leave a short stub. After each cut it is very important that you clean your pruning tools with a product such as methyl hydrate to kill any contaminating disease in trees, especially those that show obvious signs of disease. These stubs can be entry points for decay fungi or even certain diseases.

Remove all sucker shoots arising from the base of the tree or woody shrub. For fruit trees, never remove more than a quarter to a third of the branches, especially if you have never pruned the tree before. Depending on the age of the tree, I recommend that you thin out crowded branches especially in the inner core of the crown. Fruit trees need light to penetrate the crown in order to develop fruit that will stay on the tree. This also helps pollinating insects with the pollination process.

I do recommend if you need to remove large branches for whatever reason, that you hire a certified, licensed and insured arborist. You should ask to see their 2017 provincial licence. Always get at least two — or preferably three — quotes from certified arborists for doing identical work. Many past clients arrange for me to inspect their trees, and where there is a need for pruning or any other tree care action, I will design a plan for them as well as providing information about arborists.

Michael Allen M.Sc.F., RPF (ret’d) is a consulting urban forester, tree diagnostician and certified arborist. He can be reached at 204-831-6503 or 204-223-7709.


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