Tree Pruning in the Summer
We think Summer is the time to enjoy your garden and relax after all your hard work earlier in the year. However, problems with trees do arise at any time. So we have provided some basic summer pruning advice to keep your trees in great shape. We even dispel a myth or too based on latest research on the subject.
Who is this tree care advice for?
As always, our Tree care Diary is written for private individuals or business property owners who may own one or more trees in their back yard/ plot. It is not meant for commercial orchard or forestry owners. Nevertheless, we do refer to some recent horticultural research to debunk a few summer pruning myths.
Despite the care and work that goes into our Tree Care Diary, if you’re not sure of any point we make, then you can seek the advice of your local arborist. You can call Tree Top Pros to speak to one in your city in Florida.
The purpose of summer pruning
The scope and purpose of pruning trees in the summer is discussed in our preliminary article entitled June Tree Care Diary – Part 1 from Tree Top Pros. In essence, all that is required is a “light touch” in most if not all instances. Major structural pruning should be reserved for the winter months when trees are dormant UNLESS you see dead wood. Diseased, damaged or brittle dry branches without foliage must always be removed as soon as they are seen. As such, dead wood is exempt from any seasonal trimming rules.
In general, there are just six reasons why you prune in the summer:
- Removing damaged or dead branches
- Removing crossing branches
- Removing low-hanging branches that are a danger to children, for example.
- Remove water-sprouts from near the base of fruit trees
- OPTIONAL – Thin the fruit tree canopy to improve the color of red fruit
- OPTIONAL – Reduce biennial fruiting pattern in fruit trees
This month, July, we share how you can conduct your summer pruning on two groups of trees; deciduous trees and fruit trees.
Summer pruning of deciduous trees
In general, trimming a large deciduous tree in the summer is to be discouraged. The summer is a time for strong growth in all elements of the tree. Lopping off a limb will stimulate the tree to produce more growth as it seeks quickly to replace part of its food factory. The trouble is that growth will result in a lot of new but weak, fleshy branches. That is why we advocate such trees only be trimmed in the wintertime when the tree is naturally dormant. There are some exceptions to this rule, however:
- Dead branch removal – Sounds obvious but a tree branch denuded of all foliage in the summer indicates a dead wood. In winter, it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a dead branch and a dormant one because they are both without leaves. However, in summer the difference is clearer. It’s worth spending a few moments looking at your tree in all seasons to see what needs correcting.It’s also worth exploring the underlying problem causing the dead wood e.g. lightning strike, volcano mulching, pest infestation etc. In this way, your tree could also benefit from carefully targeted removal of any fruits or branches affected by pests like aphids, caterpillars and codling moths, for example. Diseased fruit and branches should not be composted but burnt where permitted or removed to a municipal disposal facility.
- Removal of crossing branches – When looking at a 3 dimensional structure such as a tree in full leaf it is sometimes difficult to see any branches let alone those which are crossing. However, if you take a closer look, try to identify those main branches which are not merely crossing but those which are crossing and touching or growing close to one another. Prioritize those which are touching as the bark will be damaged which is an open invitation for disease and structural weakness. If the smaller branch can be thinned with a clean cut and it is within arm’s reach then proceed. If not, consider asking a professional to help you but do not use a ladder as they’re inherently unsafe when cutting trees.
- Removal of low-hanging branches – Check for branches that are at head level for any small children enjoying your garden in the summer. Consider removing them for their safety, to avoid eye or head injuries, for example.
Summer Pruning of fruit trees
Caveat – this advice applies only to mature fruit trees. Pruning patterns for newly planted nursery trees are different and species-specific. We shall address planting and pruning care for new fruit trees this in another post.
The first 3 reasons for summer pruning i.e. the removal of dead, crossing or child-unfriendly branches described above also apply to fruit trees even though extra caution is advised lest the fruit harvest is reduced. These next three points are specific to trimming your fruit trees in the summer, two of which are optional in our view:
- Remove water-sprouts from near the base of fruit trees – Water sprouts or water shoots usually emanate from the bottom of the trunk and can sometimes arise following a particularly vigorous winter prune. They draw a lot of resources from a fruit tree and can be safely removed entirely unless you want one of them to replace a damaged main leader. They can be removed any time you spot them so there’s no need to wait for July if you see them earlier.
- OPTIONAL – Thin the fruit tree canopy. Summer ‘pinching’ of tender new branches is advocated by some to remove excess shoot growth and to increase light penetration in your fruit tree and to encourage the formation of flower buds on this year’s new growth. Supposedly, this also enhances the colour of red fruit in apple trees and peach trees. However, the benefits are marginal as described in this research article on the topic by a professor of horticulture at Pennsylvania State University: https://extension.psu.edu/fruit-tree-pruning-summer-pruning-cautions Here, the experts tell us that the benefits of summer ‘pinching’ and thinning the canopy are marginal at best. So we say “why bother!”. Why create extra work for yourself for no tangible benefit. We suggest that you sit back and relax in your garden instead. Limit your summer pruning of your fruit trees only to the corrective type activities we describe and then only if needed.
- OPTIONAL – Reduce biennial fruiting patterns. We’ll cover this in a separate post as it needs careful explanation and this article is already quite expansive.
Summer pruning of palm trees
This was covered in detail last month; accessible here for ease of reference.
3 easily-avoided summer pruning mistakes
1. Avoid an untidy, splintered cut when removing large branches – It’s easy to create a fractured stub when trimming a large branch under the first 3 reasons for summer pruning. To reduce damaging the tree and reduce incidence of further disease caused by unclean cuts, do this instead. Remove a wedge shape beneath the limb about half a foot away from where the branch grows out from the trunk. Then, four or five inches further out, saw vertically from top to bottom right through the branch. Any splintering will be halted by the previous wedge cut. What remains is a stub which can be removed by cutting parallel to the branch collar.
2. Avoid pruning when rain is forecasted. Rain can cause fungal fruiting bodies to release spores that could lodge in freshly cut wood. It’s best to wait until predictably dryer weather.
3. Avoid drastic trimming in summer. Never be too aggressive when trimming a fruit tree in summer as any leafy branches which are removed represents a dent in their food-producing capability. By heavy pruning, you will reduce the tree’s rate of photosynthesis which produces sugars for it to grow and bear fruit. In doubt, leave well alone and resume structural pruning in the winter months which is a dormant time for all fruit trees. Or call the experts for help.
Kindly Note: The accuracy of this calendar and timings shared within it cannot be guaranteed. States in the USA are at different latitudes, longitudes and have varying elevations. This makes the general advice we give hard to fit all states the same. Compounding these differences are the typical tree species sets between states. Furthermore, each state has its own weather patterns and levels of rainfall. All the calendar can do is broadly summarize best practice care for your trees. We therefore suggest that you consult your local arborist for more specific insights and advice relevant for your particular location.