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Pruning Made Easy: What To Do and What Not To Do

Pruning trees in Arizona, particularly in desert areas, is a little like remodeling your house. It’s complicated and takes some planning, and you don’t know if you will like the finished product until the job is done.

According to ISA certified arborist, John Eisenhower, homeowners can be confused about whether trees need to be trimmed or cut, crowned or rounded or whatever. That’s why they often end up with trees that look scalped or strange once the job is done; and, sometimes the so-called pruning can endanger a tree’s health.

Here are five basics that an ISA Certified Arborist suggests homeowners may want to remember when pruning or hiring someone else to prune trees:

1 | Terminology Speaks Volumes

Use the right terms in contracting for tree services: Workers will sometimes talk about trimming, cutting, topping, rounding, crowning, lacing or shearing. None of that really explains what workers will actually do, Eisenhower says. Better to ask for pruning that will provide crown cleaning, thinning, raising, reducing and restoring. 

2 | No Topping or “Lion’s Tailing”

Never allow topping or “lion’s tailing” to be done on your trees!  These two techniques are among the worst procedures ever used on trees and can lead to many new and serious problems (the pictures in this post are examples of these bad procedures).

Topping usually occurs when trees grow taller and spread out. Maybe branches hit the house or hang over the roof. At that point, people start cutting through large stems at the top of trees or at ends of large branches. That topping can encourage lots of sprouting at the ends of the branches that have been cut. It can also create a dense foliage shell that blocks normal sunlight for smaller branches inside the tree. And the big cuts can leave wounds that can allow fungi to invade the tree.

During “lion’s tailing,” the interior branches of a tree is over-pruned, leaving behind long slender limbs with a puff of foliage at the end that looks something like the tail of a lion. This technique can lead to profuse sprouting and weakened branches that break during storms. The trunk of the tree can be burned by the sun on super-hot days.

3 | There is a Right and Wrong Time of Year

You may have to prune each tree at a different time of year based on the kind of tree it is: December through February, for example, are the months to prune deciduous trees. You can also prune apples, peaches, nectarines, apricots, pomegranates, and nuts to dictate the height of the fruit-bearing branches. In other words, there are ways to keep the peaches from growing so tall that it is hard to reach the fruit at harvest time.  Citrus trees need to be pruned after mid-February to avoid frost damage.

4 | Be Sensitive to Your Sensitive Trees

For sun-sensitive and frost-sensitive trees, reduce the percentage of foliage you remove: During the middle of winter and summer, avoid pruning altogether or do it only lightly to shape these trees. Citrus trees never require heaving pruning. Ideally branches should be allowed to grow down to the ground to shade the thin citrus bark from the sun.

5 | Desert Trees are Different

Pruning desert trees differs from pruning other types of trees: Pruning them is often best done in shoulder seasons, like spring and fall. Spring pruning will help avoid storm damage during summertime monsoons, of course. You may want to trim a branch or two after monsoons end. If you prune in the fall as tree growth slows down, the tree will hold its shape until next year.

Many homeowners would like to get bushy looking mesquites and palo verdes to grow taller, so they want to strip out lower branches to force growth at the top of the tree. But be very careful. When you prevent a tree from developing a full canopy, you reduce its capacity to photosynthesize and stay healthy. So be more relaxed about pruning desert trees in their early years.


Outdoor Living Homeowner Handbook To Do | #WinterPruningDeciduousTrees

PODCAST‘s Justin Rohner discusses the benefits of the Texas Ebony tree.  A slow growing, dense evergreen tree that thrives in desert landscapes.  The ‘anchor trees’ of a desert landscape.  What to learn before you prune deciduous and citrus trees in the winter months.  Plus learn about cocktail trees and grafting techniques to potentially create a desired fruit variety.

Podcast Archive With Expanded Content and Resources


Certified Arborist Richard Adkins discusses the Tree Of The Month: The Texas Ebony. Native to the Chihuahuan desert, a thorny drought tolerant tree that maintains its dark green color all year. That’s just for starters. Plus careful attention to detail on pruning winter deciduous trees including Richard’s “3 cut method”.  Plus, could you plant and grow your own Christmas tree?

Podcast Archive With Expanded Content and Resources



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