Pruning - Raising Canopy Questions

jowall(Z6 Nashville TN)June 28, 2014

Apologies in advance for posting several related posts at once - but it is the only way I know how to do this and provide multiple photos that pertain to my questions.

Okay so here we go. I am growing from seed/acorn several different oaks and I have planted several other trees in and around my yard. They are all very young now, but the ultimate goal is to have a yard that has tall trees with long trunks and a high canopy of shade. Yes, I know this will take many, many years, but that is the goal. I've done a lot of reading on pruning (including Ed Gilman's great book), and I've yet to truly understand how to properly prune lower branches off so as to foster and promote that kind of long smooth trunk up to 20-30 feet before you start to see branching and leafing - and no to very few stubs/wound wood/prune cuts present.

I grew up in a yard like that - Red Oaks, Water Oaks, Willow Oaks, Tulip Poplars, Sweetgums all 50-90 feet high with long smooth trunks and high arching branches the supply just the perfect shade from above - cathedral-like.

So in all of my reading, I hear about "temporary branches". But how do you know what a temporary branch is and how long is temporary? I've heard that you don't always want to just prune immediately at the collar at the trunk, but may be you want to prune a branch back to a bud closer to the trunk at first, and then eventually take that branch off at the trunk. Gilman suggests (but is not super clear) that the limb will actually stop growing in girth implying (again not super clear) that allows the trunk to get thicker while the branch stays the same and then you can take it off without as much impact. Is this true? I'm just unclear on what to do and how to do it and when to do it.

The first example I want to provide is a water oak that I grew from acorn and planted 2 summers ago. It is growing great, but I know I need to "limb it up" but I'm afraid that some of the pruning will leave wounds that yes may heal when pruned properly but will still leave blemishes that will always be there.

NOTE: there will be several follow-up responses to this post with other questions... I would certainly appreciate your looking at all of them before replying. I appreciate and respect the feedback of everyone on this forum - you all have been so helpful over the years. THANK YOU

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jowall(Z6 Nashville TN)

Okay this next photo is of a Sycamore that I planted a few summers ago. It is growing great guns but it has some lower limbs that have gotten pretty wide that I want to take off in order to limb it up and raise the canopy. I'm worried about the pruning wounds that I will leave. I will post pictures of those limbs shortly after this.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 5:43PM
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jowall(Z6 Nashville TN)

Here is a close-up of the limb on the Sycamore that I want to take off. Again - worried that the wound left will always be there and mar the trunk forever.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 5:44PM
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jowall(Z6 Nashville TN)

Here is a sweetgum in my yard. I recently pruned the two lowest branches off of that. (photos to follow) Again is the tree doomed to be marred on the trunk?

This post was edited by jowall on Sat, Jun 28, 14 at 17:48

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 5:46PM
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jowall(Z6 Nashville TN)

Picture of the wounds left from the pruning of the sweetgum. Lower branch #1

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 5:47PM
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jowall(Z6 Nashville TN)

Sweetgum lower branch prune #2.

Okay this will be the last post. I really appreciate any and all help and advice.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 5:49PM
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Those pruning wounds is healing well and will disappear in the coming years, you did a good job on them. Do it the same way on the sycamore and there will be no problem at all

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 5:58PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

It seems like you probably have a pretty good understanding of the basics but got WAY WAY WAY over concerned about pruning wounds. As has already been said, proper pruning wounds will be covered over and will disappear with time.

One thing to consider when removing temporary limbs is that you shouldn't generally remove healthy and well-attached branches that are above the level of 1/3 the total height of the tree. Also, do consider removing, or at least cutting back (as you mentioned earlier), limbs that grow larger than about half the diameter of the trunk at the location at which the branch originates. It never hurts to leave smaller limbs attached at lower levels as long as they are not in your way. If they do impede mowing or whatever, remove them without worrying about it.

Do your homework (which you obviously have), take your time and do things right, and then stop worrying!!!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 8:42PM
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Yes, you're on the right track. "Temporary" branches are simply those that you-owner of tree-will eventually not want to be part of the "permanent" tree. And what Gilman calls "subordination pruning" is simply shortening up said temp. branches-by cutting off their tips, back to a side branch or branchlet, thereby slowing down the overall growth of that branch. Then the branch collar forms more, as the trunk continues growing at its normal rate, while that branch in question, gets slowed down. It works, and is also, and perhaps most preminently, a means to deal with competing leaders in trees, especially where these competitors are of similar size, and thus, no branch collar exists at their point of departure. By heading back the one you don't want to be the main leader, it too slows down, a branch collar forms, and subsequent removal at a later date is made more feasible.

As to pruning wounds remaining on a trunk, try to think of it as this: A new tree grows over the outside of the old tree each growing season. In time, all is covered up by new wood.


    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 8:56PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Those wounds look big, but think about this as well - those trees are, what, maybe 3 - 4" in caliper?

When those trees have 12" caliper trunks, or bigger, you won't see those wounds at all.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 11:23PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

the sweetgum wounds are healing perfectly ... when that trunk is a foot wide.. they will be gone ...

if you have a ten year goal in sight.. you can take smaller cuts.. which heal faster ... but you do.. what you have to do ...

i would take off the first few lower branches ... on all of them ... and then once a year.. take a few more.. to the limit of your ladder ...

and i do most of my pruning.. when a branch knocks off my hat ... and i am walking by with a saw ... or it really smacks me good and i go straight to the barn and get the saw ...

this is limited only by specific trees that have requisite pruning times.. like red oak and that hated bug .. but you dont have red oak.. so lets not discuss that ..though i cant say if water oak is in the family ...

a bunch of cliches ......think of it this way ... leaves are food making machines... NEVER remove too many ... a quarter is good enough ... fall is food storage time... so dont go hog wild prior ... once the leaves turn color... their work is done ... plus.. you can see structure ... ALWAYS be aware of the future ... e.g. if there is more than one leader.. early is the time to reduce to one ...

i hope you have a good TREE pruning saw ...

and good hand shears... as you can remove some of the smaller stuff.. on larger branches that will be taken in a year or two ... say.. things that droop down ... adding some shape ...

and the number one rule ... start at the extremity ... and start cutting out there ... so that when you get to the last cut.. at the trunk ... there is no more than about one foot left hanging.. then make the surgical cut... the biggest newb error... is thinking faster is better.. and trying to lop off the whole thing.. in one fell swoop ... resulting in tearing the bark down the trunk ...

once the cuts are done.. walk away ... no goo... no sprays.. no nothing ...


ps: i can clearly see the branch collar on the sycamore ... i hope you can also ...

Here is a link that might be useful: folding tree saw.. folds into your back pocket ... which makes climbing ladders easier ... they are razor sharp.. and the key is the teeth are designed to pull out wet saw dust ... which doesnt work with a dry lumber saw ... any derivation on the theme will work ... i usually pick up a 10 dollar version at tractor supply or wallyworld ... but i prefer felco hand shears ...

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 9:37AM
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jowall(Z6 Nashville TN)

Thanks to everyone for the help. Extremely helpful.

Wisconsitom - very helpful on the temporary branches and the subordination pruning - if only Gilman were as clear!!! So much good information in his book, but sometimes he's a little vague and even can seem to contradict himself from one chapter to the next.

I do have a good pruning saw, but I'm worried it is getting a bit dull - how do I sharpen? The way the teeth are arranged it seems difficult.

Ken_Adrian. Check the photo I uploaded. Is that where you see the collar?

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 10:34AM
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jowall(Z6 Nashville TN)

Ken_Adrian: Water Oak is a member of the red oak family, and I just started a Quercus Rubra and it will no doubt need pruning in the future. What do I need to know about pruning a red oak?

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 10:38AM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

With red oaks (anything in the red group - N. Red, Shumard, S. Red, Water, Scarlet, Pin, Nuttall, Black, etc) you don't want to prune in spring or early summer since the bugs that transmit oak wilt are active during those times. I'm not sure if Oak Wilt is in TN or not.

In MD I think it has technically been seen but is not a major issue from what I understand. Still I usually prune oaks around Aug-Sept to be safe unless it's unavoidable.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 10:50AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Jowall, the picture above seems slightly deceiving and I think it's because of the angle at which the photo was taken. The blue line does match the location of the branch collar at the bottom. At the top of the branch, the line appears to be a little outside the branch bark ridge (the top of the collar). The branch collar of the limb shown above would not be parallel with the trunk, but would start with the branch bark ridge and then taper out away from the trunk as you go down. See the picture (and maybe even the description) from the website linked below. While you're there, you may want to surf that site a little...there's lots of interesting stuff, especially about the world's largest trees. Mario used to be a regular here, but I haven't seen him in years now.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pruning Advice from Mario Vaden's Website

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 9:34PM
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Pruning cut #2 is healing nicely. Pruning cut #1 was made too far inside the branch collar. See that there is only a sliver of response wood on the right side? It would be a ring if it were healing evenly. The absence of response wood indicates a cut inside the collar.

The collar is the area which produces response growth, and it is important to make your cut outside of it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Shigo method

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 9:22AM
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jowall(Z6 Nashville TN)

Thanks Rugby - so does that mean that the tree is doomed to have a big gash and never grow properly to cover that wound?

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 2:36PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

It will probably still heal OK, but will take somewhat longer, increasing the risk of rot organisms taking hold.

It doesn't look *that* bad, but it will heal more slowly.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 2:40PM
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I think all those cuts on a 3-6" limb will be invisible when the tree is 50+ ft tall. I went for a walk around an area (Mt. Macrina ) near my home, there are lots of trees there, and many are high canopied. No branches for at least 20 ft up, and those small limb pruning wounds are gone. I kinda wished they would have left some horizontal branches. The trunks are large on many, and they limbed them up so much, they would have been nicer with some side branches lower on the trunk.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 8:56PM
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jowall(Z6 Nashville TN)

Food for thought. Thanks Poaky.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 10:36PM
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I don't see how a tree would naturally have no branches until 20-30 feet up? In Nature, trees generally all grow branches much lower than that. In fact, most grow branches starting close to the ground even, although some of those might break off naturally over time.

However, you would never see a forest with branches that all start above head height, as in a city or suburban neighborhood. That is artificial shaping done simply for human convenience and ergonomics.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 11:48PM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

In that case blakrab, I recommend you visit Humboldt Redwoods State Park in northern California. (Even if only through internet photographs). :-)

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 2:28AM
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