How to Mend a Broken Tree
by James Barton
Along with the much needed water, the heavy snows of winter left us with damaged trees everywhere. Looking at cracked limbs and wondering what to do? Read on.
If you remember nothing else, remember this: Proper pruning and care sustains a tree’s health and longevity. Poor workmanship will only shorten its life and may accelerate its failure. If you try to do this work yourself, first take the time to learn the steps of proper pruning.
A word on tools: A chain saw is not a pruning tool. It is used to remove trees and cut firewood, with few exceptions. A fixed-blade,13-inch pruning saw is your best bet for larger cuts. For smaller limbs and twigs, use a pair of by-pass hand shears. Some of the best brands of pruning tools include Felco, Corona, ARS and Bahco.
Trees have a natural process called compartmentalization that allows them to grow around the wood wounded by correct pruning cuts. Compartmentalization seals off the cut and allows a tree to continue growing without opening it to the risk of invading diseases or insects.
To prune correctly, find the point on your tree where the branch or stem that needs to be removed grows out from the main trunk or larger branch. At this point, called a crotch, you will usually find a swollen area slightly thicker and larger than the diameter of the branch to be cut. Be sure you leave this collar on the tree when you cut. Make the cut slightly in front of it without leaving a long stub. If you leave a stub or cut the branch off flush, the tree will be unable to heal and will be open to invading pests. Don’t try to compensate for a bad pruning cut by covering it with paint, tar or pruning sealer. Your dad may have done it that way; but research now shows this is more likely to impede the tree’s natural process.
If the breaks have torn down the trunk or a major limb, than you have little choice but to call in a professional. When your tree has this much damage, you need a skilled consulting arborist to show you what should be done. Then you will know if you can take on the work yourself or have it done for you.
Unfortunately, anyone with a saw and pick-up truck can claim to know how to prune trees. Here’s how to find a tree care professional :
• Ask around. Ask the nurseries, the arboretum, or your community forester to recommend an arborist who does quality work.
• If you search the yellow pages, look for companies that promote the health of trees and are not just interested in cutting and removing trees.
• Ask your candidates if they are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture. This organization tests and regulates arborists in an attempt to promote correct work in the tree care profession.
• Ask to see their work and confirm that it is in fact their work. You can request a list of customers, locations, and a few reference phone numbers you can call. A qualified, experienced professional leaves trees looking natural after pruning. They will not look bare, they will not resemble lion tails, and they will not have the top and ends cut off. Anyone who will top a tree is not a qualified arborist or tree care professional.
• Ask to see a copy of their insurance. This insurance provides protection for the home owner in the event that the arborist causes any damage to the property. A phone number, contact and policy number will be all the information you need.
While money doesn’t grow on trees, your trees have monetary value. More importantly, they have heating and cooling properties, as well as providing soul pleasure. Care for them, treat them well, and your trees will live long and return the favor. u
Jim Batton is an arborist and garden writer living in Salt Lake City. (James@mytreedoc.com)