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Dallas Morning News - January 15, 2019

Pruning Dead Wood

If you haven’t already, is it time to prune your trees. No, not the annual “thinning “ for no particular reason, but rather the thoughtful “fine tuning” work that is needed for specific reasons.

What’s the difference? Few trees, especially shade trees, need major pruning every year. It does not help them grow, produce more flowers or help the grass beneath grow better - all ideas I hear thrown around. Heavy pruning can actually be detrimental to trees. The worse ice storm damage I have ever seen was on cedar elms and oaks that were heavily pruned, lifted and gutted.

To do appropriate tree pruning, start by standing back and studying the tree for a bit. If the tree is lopsided and leaning to the side with the heaviest growth, removal of branches and weight from the heavy side might be needed to balance the natural appearance of the tree. If it already has a pleasant natural shape and balance, all that’s needed is minor pruning to remove crossing and rubbing limbs as well as deadwood. Keep the natural shape. There will almost always be some deadwood and the larger limbs can become dangerous by falling on roofs, cars, pets and people. The small dead stuff is not dangerous - just messy. Works well for fireplace kindling anyway.

How do you tell live limbs from dead branches in the winter when the leaves are gone? Good arborists can tell easily from a quick glance, but it’s a little harder for novice homeowners. Dead branches will usually be a little different color (sometimes lighter, sometimes darker), will be less flexible and more brittle and will not have distinctive buds as do the live limbs. After some study and a little experimenting, you’ll catch on quickly. For any questions, it’s always better to miss a few than cut too much.

“Flush cuts” are always a bad thing - even when cutting away dead limbs. They are ugly and cause serious long-term damage to your trees. Besides encouraging pest problems, they also lead to the formation of cavities in your tree.

I’m still not a big “paint the cuts” guy. Science has shown that paints, tars and wound dressings slow down the healing of pruning cuts and offer little if any benefit. So - save the time and money and skip this step. In oak wilt areas, just don’t prune in the spring. If you must, use the product Lac Balsam. It breathes and allows cuts to heal properly.

In conclusion - if wondering whether or not to prune a limb away - don’t! Less is usually more when dealing with your trees.

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