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The Biology of Pruning

Bob Underwood
Dakota College at Bottineau
Underwood & Associates
• Education begins when you doubt

• Education occurs when you resolve

your doubts.
• We can not know what is wrong unless we
know what right is!!

• Diesel vs Gas Engine

Principles of Arboriculture
• Arboriculture 3rd and 4th Editions
• Harris, Clark, Matheny
• Prentice Hall
“As tree development changes
with time, so must tree care”
With your Forest?

• The Community Tree

“Tree Care is a long
term, low intensity
“Tree Care is founded
on the principles of
plant health care.”
The Culprit -
Bronze Birch Borer -
Clean-up batter
in Nature

In our yard
“Tree care applies
general concepts to
specific genotypes.”
Energy- RiseandFall

Trees are a committed

system - Like an
airplane at takeoff!!!

 What is it used for? Where is it created?

Where is it stored?
Energy - Rise and Fall

• Like a Business, the Tree must make a profit or it fails? But there are
“In tree care, an ounce
of prevention is worth a
pound of cure because
we have a limited ability
to cure.”
“Good trees and tree
care start with quality
“Tree selection is
founded on ‘right plant,
right place.’”
“know the place,
select the plant.”
treatments can have
either positive benefits
or negative
“Tree health and
hazards are related, but
not equivalent.”
“Arboriculture and
Forestry are related but
not equivalent fields.”
“You become
responsible, forever, for
what you have tamed.”
From The Little Prince
• Mechanical Design of Trees:
Trees as structures must develop support
tissue to not only support the combined
weight of their own components, but also
resist the forces of wind, snow, ice and
• Most of the research has been done by
Claus Mattheck and his associates in Germany
. Their research is based on five general

• Trees grow to evenly distribute the stress along

their surface.
– Trees adhere to the constant stress axiom. Points where
changes in orientation occur are natural areas of
weakness, such as the outer layers of the stem, the
sapwood, which provides most of the support, except in
older trees.
• Over time there are no overloaded or
under loaded points.
– Again, the constant stress axiom
applies. During severe storms there will
be areas of weakness and for a period of
time after growing conditions around a
tree have undergone radical change,
weakness may occur.
• Mechanical stress results in active
cambium growth.
– Wood production provides the support
and is fastest in a vigorous tree. Where
weakness or injury occurs, the tree
actively adds wood to repair them. We
use this fact to add girth to bonsai trees
by shaking them occasionally.
• A tree's internal anatomy is directly related to
mechanical strength.
– Wood and wood rays provide the mechanical strength.
• The manner in which a tree grows reveals the
pattern of stress.
– Mattheck says, "defect symptoms are a product of
repair growth." He also says that "the body language
of trees does not tell lies."
• Remember, trees grow in response to stress.
As they become larger and heavier, the base
must become bigger to support them. This
widening near the base of the plant is referred
to as taper.
• The same occurs on branches.
• If we know what causes this taper to develop,
we can train stronger trees for the future.
• Lateral branches encourage diameter growth
and will reduce height growth. Therefore,
they should be left on a tree when it is young
to develop a strong base, but kept under
control as the tree ages. This relatively easy,
since laterals do not grow as rapidly as
upright branches.
Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture & Life
• Wounded or lost wood tissue is not replaced by a healing process. Wounded or lost wood tissue
is not replaced by a healing process. Perennial plants react to injury by forming physical and
chemical barriers to contain the injury and its effects. Alex Shigo has termed this CODIT
(compartmentalization of disease in trees).This is called compartmentalization since the tree
forms a compartment around the damaged area to lessen its impact on the rest of the tree. This
compartment is six sided, formed by four walls: jury by forming physical and chemical barriers
to contain the injury and its effects. Alex Shigo has termed this CODIT .

• Wall 1 - The top and bottom This is the plugging of xylem cells and tracheids above and below
the injured area. (weakest wall)
• Wall 2 - The inside limit Formed by the thick walled late season cells of an interior growth
• Wall 3 - The two sides The radial xylem rays running horizontally between the bark and the
interior of the tree.
• Wall 4 - The outer wall The new xylem formed after the wounding takes place. Chemically and
anatomically different. (the strongest wall against spread of decay, but structurally weak,
leading to ring shakes)
• Walls 2 and 3 also undergo chemical changes that produce phenols in hardwoods and terpenes
in softwoods to further limit decay.

– (adapted from Shigo and Marx 1977

– Photo: A.L. Shigo
• Branch Attachment
• Have you ever noticed that as you pull a branch off a tree,
it only rips down, never up or sideways? This simple
observation explains quite clearly how a branch is
attached to the trunk, but was not noticed or understood
by most people until the middle 1980's.
• This attachment point must allow for the flow of water up
to the leaves and the flow of photosynthetic products
back down, while supporting an ever increasing mass.
• As a branch grows, it adds successive new layers of
xylem, these are in turn buried in the trunk by the layers
of xylem being formed by the trunk. They are two
distinct generating systems and as such add another
boundary to spread of disease within the tree.

Image Source - TREES,

SHIGO (2 CD set
My photo
• We find that if the end is broken off
a branch or a cut is made to the
cambium, buds below this point
developing into new branches will
have a more upright growth than the
• If a shallow cut is made just below a
bud, again to the cambium layer, the
bud will develop a wider than
normal branch attachment.
• If a lateral with a sharp angle of
attachment is removed from a young
leader, the resulting new growth
from several latent buds will have a
wider angle of attachment. With this
information we can make better
decisions on cuts when training
young trees along the street or in our
• Purposes of pruning: Before we remove a
branch from a tree, we should know exactly why
we are doing it and what the resulting action will
be on the part of the tree.
• We must know the natural form of the tree for it is
hard to fight Mother Nature.
• We must be observant so that we can determine
how a tree of unknown growth habit has
responded to the last time it was pruned and
therefore what it is likely to do in the future.
• The text looks at several reasons for pruning:
• Training young plants,
• maintenance of health and appearance,
• control of plant size,
• influencing flowering, fruiting and vigor,
• compensation for root loss,
• invigoration of stagnating plants,
• and increasing the value of conifers.
• While these are all standards of the industry, are
they all in the tree's best interest?
• Training young plants is probably the closest to being truly beneficial
for the tree, if it reduces future need for treatment.
• If a tree has developed in its current environment, shouldn't the leaves
be of the right type to utilize light most efficiently?
• Shouldn't there be sufficient reaction wood and taper to withstand
normal winds?
• Shouldn't the tree be vigorous enough to tolerate most common
diseases and insects, eliminating the need for sprays?
• If we put the right tree in the right spot originally, why would we need
to control size?
• If the roots have been cut off, do we reduce the energy producing
component needed to replace them?
• Why do trees produce large fruit crops occasionally, fear of death?
• If we traumatically cut back a bush and it responds with a last ditch
effort to put out leaves and produce energy, have we invigorated it?
• What is vigor?
• Pruning Responses:
• The initial response to pruning in most young trees and those with few
flowers is an invigoration of individual shoots (there's that i word again) if
done during the growing season.
• These shoots grow longer faster and have larger leaves. The root-shoot ratio
is definitely in their favor. However, this growth is later in the season using
up more reserve while creating less for storage and the total leaf area is
usually less than on an untrimmed tree.
• This leads to a general dwarfing of the total plant.
• If the pruning is done during the dormant season, the general dwarfing still
occurs, but the top and roots are in balance by the end of the season and less
of the obvious shoot growth is observed.
• To reduce the growth rate of an individual branch, we generally shorten it,
reducing the amount of energy available for growth. (subordination pruning)
• Another concept to remember is that if we cut it to a horizontal side branch,
these grow slower than upright shoots.
• Time of Pruning:
• This varies from when the saw is sharp to the right time of the moon. We should
always know the plant species, the condition it is in and what the desired results are before
we start.
• Light pruning of unwanted growth can be done when it is small.
• Broken and dead branches may be removed at most anytime with no effect on plant vigor.
• Generally it is best to prune deciduous trees during early dormancy, late dormancy may
lead to "bleeding" which is much more painful to the customer than the tree.
• We can pinch back tops and make small cuts to alter growth habit during the growing
• Another consideration is if trees are more susceptible to specific insect pests or diseases
at one time of the season or another (i.e.. Oak wilt prior to July 1 in Red Oaks).
• If you wish to slow the growth of the plants, best results will come from pruning in late
spring or early summer, reducing leaf area for the longest period.
• During the growing season, we can most easily determine what
branches are hanging too low or are dead. During this time we
may be limited by the nesting activity of certain birds, whose
presence is desired by the homeowner.
• The best general rule for flowering plants is to prune when
they finish flowering . This allows them the necessary time to
set new buds for the next season. It also may remove the fruit
before it develops and actually saves this energy for the tree to
put to other uses.
• Flowering itself does not eat into a tree’s energy reserves to any
great extent, since the energy required is already stored in the
bud or in its immediate shoot. This characteristic makes it very
hard to reduce the size of flowers on a bonsai tree to the extent
that we can the limbs and leaves.
• Closure of wounds may be faster if the pruning is done just prior or
just following initiation of growth in the spring. Within that growing
• Wounds in the winter, spring or summer did not affect closure rates
the following season, however those made in the autumn slowed
closure by 20% in the first year. There was no difference in following
• Early pruning must be done carefully since the bark may tend to slip
due to the very active cambium, and fall pruning may coincide with
the sporulation of many fungi.
• Pruning may stimulate new growth if done in late fall, leading to
freeze damage. This may also occur near a pruning cut if the
temperature gets low enough. This is something to consider on some
species in colder climates.
• Some trees are thinned in the fall to allow sunlight to penetrate for
residences using solar energy for part of their heating.
• Did I create enough doubts to start education??
• Now your assignment is to resolve those doubts,
between you, me and your peers.
• 701-228-2732 (your hotline to my opinions)

• Thanks as I ride off into the sunset, in my

chauffeured Limousine!!!