The best defense is a good offense, which is why we would like to bring your attention to proactive tree care as an alternative way to think about dealing with your urban canopy. While it may seem easier to forget about our trees' health until they cause problems, it is often better financially and for your trees to do routine maintenance than end up having to remove a large dead tree that could have been saved.
One of the best ways to maximize your overall investment in your landscape is to care for your trees when they are young. Developing a plan with an arborist when the trees are small can tremendously improve the health and longevity of the trees over their lifespan. This foresight can prevent unnecessary and costly removals and help future growth.
Beginning with structural pruning can assist them to grow with good form and structure. This is particularly important for young trees because proper pruning can help them grow to have lower potential for structural failure and requiring less maintenance in the future.
Pruning a tree when it is small, before defects like a codominant stem arise, is far more cost effective than mitigating those issues in a mature tree. Arborists can use hand pruners to eliminate a defect from the ground much easier than climbing a mature tree to prune and install a cable to reduce overextended limbs. Structural pruning can also eliminate crossed branches which can eventually rub causing open wounds or prevent air flow trapping disease-causing bacteria.
Structural pruning is an urban solution to a problem that does not occur in nature. Trees in the forest have competition from other trees which causes them to grow straight and without much branch spread. There is limited availability for sunlight and space for branches to grow. Most urban trees do not grow with the same restrictions. Without the competition of other trees around, they can grow (sometimes very quickly) unimpeded. This unlimited growth can cause some of the structural problems that can cause a tree to fail.
Timing is an important consideration for pruning your tree. Young trees should be pruned every two to three years. Other factors to take into account vary greatly depending on the species, how fast it grows and where it is planted. Newly planted trees need time to recover from the shock of transplanting before pruning for structure and form, so waiting several years is generally recommended. The dormant season is also the best time to prune a tree, so waiting on the leaves to drop is overall more beneficial to the health of the tree.
There is a right and wrong way to prune a tree; it’s not as simple as cutting off a branch. Trees do not heal wounds, they compartmentalize, which means that they wall off the damaged area. If a tree is cut indiscriminately, it can have a much harder time sealing off the wound and preventing further damage to the rest of the tree.
When considering pruning a young tree, it is important to consult with a certified arborist. As a trained professional, an arborist can help decide the best timing for pruning, ensure that the right branches are selected for form and also ensure that the pruning cuts are made with the health of the tree in mind.