Select a Strong Leader
Healthy trees need strong leaders. In dense forests, trees grow close together and compete for sunlight meaning that they will usually develop one strong central branch or leader. But in our gardens, that competition does not exist, and trees will potentially develop many strong upright branches. If a tree has too many big branches competing with each other for resources, the tree may look big and bushy, but it will be weaker overall. Without proper pruning, a young tree will branch out in all directions and not develop a strong trunk or central frame, making it more susceptible to strong winds and storm damage.
When pruning your young trees to establish their shape, you need to select one strong central branch and establish it as the leader by removing any competing branches. If there are several strong branches, select the most central branch and remove all competing branches to prevent the formation of multiple or double leaders. If you do not want to remove the competing branches, you need to shorten them by cutting them back to one-third of their length. Also remove any damaged, defective or misshapen branches that may become a problem as the tree gets bigger but do not prune your leader.
Permanent lateral scaffolds are the principal branches of a tree and grow from the central leader. You need to decide on the position of your lowest scaffold but remember that depending on the ultimate height of your tree, your lower scaffolds may not be permanent. Trees grow at the top and lower branches remain at the same level throughout the life of the tree. As you tree grows you will need to remove the lower scaffolds so that you can walk or at least sit under the tree. If a tree overhangs a street or driveway there needs to be clearance for vehicles.
The best branches to select for scaffolds grow at an angle greater than 45 degrees from the main leader as these branches are attached most strongly to the trunk. Remove any branches with a narrow-angle of attachment to improve the shape of your tree. When pruning young trees, do not remove all the branches below your permanent scaffolds. Leave these branches for a year or two because they shade and protect the trunk, aiding the growth and establishment of the tree. But remember to remove them after several years when the tree is strong and healthy but before the branches become unmanageable.
Tree pruning may seem straight forward but it can be time-consuming and you do need the correct tools for the job. If you have any doubts about how to prune and shape your young trees, it is best to contact a tree pruning service, like Martin’s Tree Services, to give you advice or do the job for you. The correct pruning of young and newly-planted trees will save you time and money in the future.