Recently I’ve had a number of folks call in and drop by asking if it is alright to trim or prune their trees this time of the year.
I’m guessing the recent cooler weather has folks outside more, because this really isn’t the typical time of the year to prune.
My standard answer is no, this is not the ideal time of year to prune trees. Summer months are normally hot, dry months and the hardest time in our annual growing cycle. Major pruning when trees are heat- and moisture-stressed is a terrible idea.
However, minor pruning to remove limbs that are hitting the eves of your home, limbs that impede your walkway or branches that hit your car when parking it in the driveway most certainly can be removed at any time.
Often the pruning occurs (and should occur) because of the damage a limb may cause or for convenience. The tree limb that broke due to recent winds from Harvey needs to be removed.
When cutting off a limb, you don’t want to leave a portion of the limb sticking out nor do you want to skin up the tree trunk bark because of cutting too close. There is a “collar” near the base of limbs that your final pruning cut should be made through. Taking care to cut through the collar will ensure the best chances for it to heal over.
There is both an art and science to pruning. Carefully applied, the loppers can yield more fruit, a more pleasing shape, or a healthier plant. Wrongly done, you can end up with a butchered tree, with open wounds and an unpleasant form.
But the “rules” don’t apply equally to all trees.
Peach trees are prime examples of how a specific technique can yield an abundance of quality fruit. I’ll never forget the first time a commercial peach producer showed me how many lateral limbs he wanted, then how many buds he would allow per limb. His efforts were quite laborious and profited him greatly.
Additionally, if you’ve ever studied the methods of pruning grape vines for maximum production, you’ll find a stringent set of rules there. Vineyard owners owe their livelihood to the absolute proper pruning practices.
Other fruit and nut trees fall into the same category. Be it a pear, pecan, or persimmon: a careful, planned approach typically yields healthier and more abundant fruit.
Yes, there are outliers in the exacting fruit-pruning world. Figs don’t need pruning. Some of the best fig trees that I have observed in my travels around east Texas haven’t seen a lopper yet. Robust as they can become, their limbs grow and produce quality fruit on new growth from watering and fertilizing, but no pruning.
Regarding landscape trees, let me first share some wisdom that I heard many years ago from renowned horticulturalist, Neil Sperry, “no plant absolutely has to be pruned.” A plant will grow naturally so long as it has water, sunlight and nutrients.
Heresy, you say? Consider the dogwood. Who in their right mind would prune that back? Or a pine tree, or redbud or… What about the crepe myrtle?
Let me wade into this carefully. Crepe myrtles are beautiful plants that can be categorized as large shrubs or small trees. Many standard varieties can reach 20 feet, 25 feet or even 30 feet tall. If you desire a smaller variety, there are dwarf types that grow only to four feet and even miniatures that stop at one to two feet in height.
So why do we hack them back so much? I honestly don’t know.
Left alone, they will still bloom profusely. Around the farm house that my family bought four years ago are some beautiful 25 foot or taller crepe myrtles. I have no clue how old they are. They have done tremendously without any care and certainly without any pruning. What a travesty it would be to cut them back!
The Angelina County Extension office will be holding a seminar, “Landscaping with Well Adapted Plants” on Monday, Sept 18 at 6:30 pm at the Extension office next to the Farmers Market. $10 per person.
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.