Hang onto your hats, ladies and gents! Spring is blowing through, pushed hard by summer coming up quick on its heels. If all the scientists are right (they usually are, you know…), we are in for a hot and dry year, likely followed by a hotter and drier one next year. So far, it’s been an odd spring, with a lot of trees and shrubs blooming a bit later than normal. Hopefully that will get us past the late-freeze problem that wiped out all my tree fruits last year!
Seriously, its gonna be hot and dry this year. As your trees start to push out the new growth for this year, they are going to need water. Pay attention to soil moisture and leaf turgor (look it up!), and make sure the majority of the root zone has a nice organic mulch, like wood chips. Mulches do so much good for tree roots, not only cooling the soil and greatly slowing evaporation of water from the soil, but also by supporting the growth of the beneficial fungi and microbes that make dirt into healthy soil, and in the process really stimulate plant health.
Watch that new growth as it comes out over the next two months; pay attention to the leaves, their relative size and their color. Leaves are the energy factories of the tree, and the tree benefits from every leaf it has. Look closely at the new growth, all green and fuzzy, and imagine that in a few short years it will be branchy and tough, bark in place and shape strengthened. While being amazed at nature’s abundance, look ahead to future growth and consider – does this new branch become a head-banger over the sidewalk in five or ten years? If so, mark it for careful removal once the flush of growth has subsided and sweet summer has arrived. The cut is smaller, the recovery quicker, the damage to the tree is less.
Why prune in summer? Well, for the tree, really. Trees do two things to seal a wound like a pruning cut. One, they bring anti-fungal decay chemistry up from below, to plug up all the cells of the wood exposed by the cut. Then, they grow wound wood over the cut. If these two things are successful, the wound is sealed up and eventually buried deep in the wood as new growth covers it up. So, to do these two repair processes, the tree needs to be awake, to be metabolically active and to have access to sufficient water to function. Summer pruning makes wounds at the time of the season when the tree is most able to deal with having been wounded.
Last thought before finishing the cold beer at hand and getting ready for bed…young trees need pruning, too. Pruning for landscape trees is like school for children: start them early on a good course, and when they reach the age of independence, they can stand strong and true against the winds of the world, literal and metaphorical. If you’re not sure about how to do structural pruning for young trees…get in touch with Root to Shoot!