Five Important Rules

In most cases, woody plants that are allowed to respond naturally to their own genetic growth requirements look much different from most of those we see everyday.

Why? It’s usually a matter of what happens to them while under our care. We spend a great deal of time and effort forcing plants into the wrong shaped holes because we must have a certain plant or look within a particular environment.

In other words, we plant things because of our aesthetic desires rather than those dictated by the existing environment. Remember these five important rules, and your trees and shrubs will thrive.

Rule 1: Plant according to the site’s environmental requirements rather than your aesthetic desires. There are plants that will fit any site, even if that site is under water or on the top of a mountain. If it’s wet, plant wet; if dry, plant dry. Know what your plant needs and plant accordingly. The savings in maintenance costs over time will be astounding, as will be your plant’s response to that site.

Rule 2: Work with professional, certified, credentialed arboricultural professionals. You wouldn't hire an arborist to build your house. Why let people who clean gutters prune your trees? Our industry has had a difficult time taking something invented in the wood shed and turning it into something a bit more scientific. Woody plants are extremely complex organisms that are genetically programmed to function a certain way. They are made to generate wood rather than re-generate skin as we do. We have had a tendency to treat the plant kingdom as humans when in fact the two are very different. During any construction project around trees, the best friend an engineer or homeowner can have is a qualified arborist knowledgeable in the ways of tree roots as well as an understanding of a tree’s response to wounding. Roots are somewhat of a mystery that we are just beginning to discover and understand. Look at a consulting arborist as someone who can literally add years of beauty and property value to your world.

Rule 3: Unless already broken or damaged by weather, never ever remove the tops from your large shade trees. Simply put, DON’T TOP YOUR TREES! Trees are programmed to do one thing: grow bigger every year. If they don’t, they die. There are situations where shade trees become shorter, as mentioned. It is our job to keep them growing and healthy. Shrubs and fruit trees are different from large shade trees. However, the old practice of topping because a tree is too tall must become a thing of the past.

Rule 4: Plant your shrubs and trees too high rather than too low. Never, ever bury the woody parts of a plant’s trunk when planting your new tree or shrub. There is a place on woody plants where the trunk flare and the root crown meet; it resembles a bell or elephants foot. This buttressing flare should be visible after planting and never buried under dirt or mulch. Many new trees and shrubs become victims of “volcano” mulching where mulch has been piled too high around a plant’s woody parts. In extreme cases trees can actually be placed on top of the ground with dirt piled around the root ball at a proper depth and the plant will grow well. Never too deep works well and always makes a difference.

Rule 5: Shearing plants is a recommended practice in very specific situations but in general is the wrong way to prune your plants. After shearing is completed new growth begins to form around the exterior parts of a plant, creating a dense, dark shell of leaves. As these leaves grow, light no longer penetrates the plant’s inner surfaces, inhibiting leaf growth on the plant’s interior. The plant no longer creates the food it needs through photosynthesis and begins to decline. This affects leaf and flower production and will eventually kill the plant. Naturalized pruning, on the other hand, opens plants to light and air while at the same time allows predator insects access to insect pests that thrive in dark unhealthy recesses of the plant. We want to prune plants to enhance leaf growth. More leaves on more parts of our plants encourage health, vitality and beauty, which are only a few of the wonderful things our plants give to us.

We have control over these procedures. We just need to do the right things in a biological sense. Our plants will respond by doing what they do best… become bigger and more beautiful every year!

Thank you for your interest in our company and your plants. If you would like to continue with us as stewards of your landscape pruning, we would enjoy meeting you and talking further. If you know someone that cares about their plants as you do, maybe we can help them as well. Our relationship with you is our reason for being here. We look forward to hearing more from you.

Thanks, Peter!

Copyright 2006 by Peter Deahl. All rights reserved.
 
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The Pruning School 16 Berkeley Court Sterling, Virginia 20165