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Right and wrong

October 7, 2012

Right: To remove a branch for whatever reason (beauty, safety, light, flowers and fruits), use a pruning saw to make a smooth cut, allowing the bark to overgrow the wound with no delay. This will minimize the risk of a fungal attack and make a more beautiful stem.

Wrong: Do not use a machete knife to whack the branch. The stump of the branch may take years to die/decompose, and cracks and the rough surface will increase the area for pathogenic fungal spores to land and thrive. An invasive pathogenic fungus may wipe out the entire tree and then spread from gnawing roots to other trees.

If you saw from the top only, a heavy branch may rip off the bark below the branch and expose more wood. Use the saw to make an initial cut from below until 30-50% deep, then make a top cut until the branch breaks. Finally, make a third cut to remove the stump.

There is no need to cover the wound with a paste.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell and a Dokmai Garden longan tree (Dimocarpus longan, Sapindaceae).

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 7, 2012 6:21 AM

    Excellent post, Eric. This kind of advice is needed worldwide, I’m sure. The arboreal butchery I see perpetrated even by commercial tree trimming services makes me ill. Bad pruning technique seems to be the norm.

  2. David Cooke permalink
    October 7, 2012 7:01 AM

    The theories behind the correct way to prune branches are well established and accepted. With experience a tree specialist will know which branches are likely to snap off abruptly (and dangerously) or will messily drop to the ground. (This can also depend on the tree species as well as season and the temperature in Europe), Anyway I often did the initial cut as far away from the trunk as convenient, especially when high up and interested in where exactly the branch was going to drop- worrying about correctly finishing off the stump after the branch had been cleared away.
    Many people cut the stump too near to the trunk out of a mistaken sense of tidiness- keeping the wound as small and smooth as possible is a good way of keeping fungal attack at bay.
    I have an issue with the manufacturers of wound pastes, I used them according to instructions years ago when I started my career as a tree surgeon and noticed the stuff peeling off after a year or two, sometimes with fungal growth already visible beneath. I was told that I had obviously applied it wrongly. I have seen many badly pruned trees with wound paste applied, as if this were an alternative to learning how to prune correctly.

    • October 7, 2012 8:34 AM

      Dear David,

      You are absolutely right about the tree paste. Tree surgeon Don Cox who held a pruning class at Dokmai garden back in 2009 explained to his students (including me) that the tree paste has no significant impact on incidence of fungal infections.

      That saves as time, money and soap.

      Cheers, Eric

    • October 7, 2012 8:46 AM

      Yes, if the tree is gigantic one should not allow a 300 kg limb fall down without a prepared landing site. Gigantic trees should be pruned in little pieces, using ropes to lower each limb piece. Such endeavours suit professional arborist teams. The home gardener can still use the basic principles and hand tools for his small apple or longan trees.

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