Article 7 of 12 from Trees: Dispelling Myths & Misinformation, prepared by the arborists of the Southwest Division of Bartlett Tree Experts as a community education initiative.
In a way, a young tree is like a crystal ball to an arborist. He or she can look at it and tell its fortune:
Those two equal-sized stems that branch from the trunk will grow larger someday, and their bark will meet between them. This will cause weakness and greater risk of failure.
Attached to a main leader, that long, skinny limb branches into four similar-sized limbs. They will grow larger someday, compete for dominance, and cause imbalance and interference in the crown.
There’s more: the girdling root, the buried root collar, soil conditions, foliage abnormalities, and other signs and conditions. These tell an arborist whether this tree is more likely to thrive, have beauty, and be more structurally sound or whether it will struggle, look poorly, pose hazards, and even die young.
We will cover correct pruning of mature trees in another article, but scheduled, structural pruning of young trees, along with other maintenance measures, can
- reduce the tree’s structural weaknesses,
- form a more beautiful tree,
- increase the tree’s ability to withstand stress and resist disease; and
- spare its owners more costly corrective measures later.
Some of the measures for proper planting can be employed correctively for a young tree. These include excavating the root collar, addressing stem girdling, ensuring adequate hydration, and applying mulch over the root zone. An arborist can also conduct soil analysis and inspect for insects and diseases. A proper formulation of fertilizer that includes beneficial fungi can promote rapid growth and improve root system health and function. The arborist also has the opportunity to address pest and disease problems before they do extensive damage.
A key aspect of young-tree maintenance is selective pruning. Property owners will never have a better opportunity to influence the structural integrity of a tree than when it’s young. Ideally, a tree has a central leader from which other branching develops and is spaced appropriately, but young trees rarely grow this way without help. A trained arborist can correct structural defects that are common in young trees, but not all at once. As with any pruning, removing too much foliage in one session can harm the tree.
Isn’t it more natural and kind to let a young tree grow as it will without interference from humans? No, not when it’s going to be near a home, shading children, in a location where people gather, or in a similar urban setting. Directing the structural soundness of a young tree reduces its risk of failure in maturity. And seeing to its other health concerns increases the likelihood that the tree will better withstand stresses and be more resistant to pests and diseases.
On a regular basis, we treat mature trees for many of these same issues, but nurturing a tree from its youth is more likely to produce a healthy, beautiful, and safer adult tree. It’s a proactive approach that’s worth the investment.
Having covered pruning of young trees, we’ll look at pruning mature trees in the next article. It’s one of the most misunderstood and poorly performed practices we see in our industry.