Tree Training and Tree Pruning Banner - Image of Tree Pruning Example

Training and pruning newly planted deciduous* trees is essential to the health of a tree. Young trees must be “trained” and pruned correctly during the first few years of their lives. Trees that are neglected during this time often lead to headaches for property owners.

Before You Get Started

If you haven’t yet, read Choosing a Treeand Planting a Treeto help get your tree off to a good start. Let your newly planted tree develop for about two years without any pruning, except for removing prune dead, diseased or damaged branches. Once your tree reaches two years of age, this is the time to begin training your young tree. For information about pruning evergreen trees, read Pruning Trees and Shrubs.

Tree Training

Your tree should have a “central” leader (the main trunk or branch), which means it has one main stem from which several smaller branches grow. If it has more than one leader, you’ll need to choose one to be the central leader, and prune off the other competing limbs. An unpruned tree has poor structure, especially if it has numerous branches attached at narrow angles. These attachments are weak and may break, leaving the tree open to insect infestation and disease. These branches may also break over houses or cars and cause property damage.

Identify the branches that will become the tree’s framework around the trunk. These secondary branches should be less than 2/3 the diameter of the trunk and be attached at wide angles. Leave the small branches that grow along the lower trunk of the tree. They help provide food for the tree and can be pruned off as the tree grows larger.

When pruning, be careful to prune at an angle so you don’t cut into the main part of the tree trunk. There are three steps to cutting off branches to make sure they do not tear. For more detailed information about pruning your young tree, read Pruning Young Trees by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).

Should You Stake a Tree?

When you bring a tree home from a nursery, it often has a small stake attached to it. Make sure to remove this stake before planting. In most situations, your newly planted tree will not need a new stake. A tree without a stake whose top is allowed to move in the wind will develop a better root system and have a stronger trunk.

The rare times stakes are needed occur when a tree top isn’t support by the roots, or for trees planted in high wind areas. Tie trees with a trunk smaller than 2-3 inches to one stake. Trees with a larger diameter can tied to 2-3 stakes. Tie each stake separately to the trunk using a “figure 8” method to tie the tape. Read this article by Fine Gardening for a great visual on how to stake your tree. Incorrectly staking a tree can cause severe wounds that leave trees more susceptible to diseases and insect infestation. It also limits the trees’ ability to transport water and food.

*Deciduous trees lose their leaves each year.

Sketch by Ed Perry, photos by Holly Guenther.

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