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Tree Trimming Tips

Tree Trimming Tips

I grew up in western Kansas where it is basically a crime to cut down trees but, when I moved to eastern Kansas I learned that trimming and cutting down trees is very necessary. It can be difficult to tell when a tree is dead, what time of year to trim, how to use a chainsaw, etc. So I went to an expert to ask these questions, Peggy Quirarte is a Master Gardener with Kansas State University and she answered these questions for me.


How do you know when a tree is dead from just looking at it?

“When a tree goes from dying to dead it can become dangerous. You can tell a tree is dead if there is no new growth if the twigs and branches snap off instead of bending. Scratch the bark on a twig, it should have a green layer called cambium underneath the brown layer, if that’s not there it is dead..”

What time of year is best to trim and why? Or when should you not trim?

Damaged branches should be trimmed as soon as possible, regardless of date.  For routine trimming, It depends heavily on the type of tree.   In general, you should never trim in the Fall because it will send the tree into a growth rush right before freezing temperatures. The freeze will damage the new growth on the trees. 

Late Winter or early Spring is usually the best time to trim deciduous trees.  Fruit trees and ornamental flowering trees are trimmed for various reasons at different times of the year.  Usually at planting time to train tree for fruit production.  Most fruit trees are then trimmed later in order to thin the tree for optimal fruit production, just before bud break in spring.  You can check the State Extension Office website for specific information about your area and type of tree.

What is the best way to dispose of trees and limbs (tree limbs)?

“If the debris is not diseased those living outside of city limits can just pile them up with usual brush waste. If the plant is diseased, waste should be bagged with trash or burnt, but do not compost it. Those living in the city can bundle all waste to be picked up with the trash, check with your local trash pickup provider for more information.”

What can I treat my trees with before and after I trim?

“Do not seal the tree wounds, wait and allow it to seal itself. It is best practice to always use clean tools with a cloth dipped in alcohol or bleach prior to cutting, especially if there is a concern of disease.”

What is “topping” and why shouldn’t it be done?

“Topping is cutting off the top of the tree to fit under power lines or control height. It is a bad practice because it ruins the natural shape and will cause excessive small twig growth at the cut site. Removing leaf-bearing branches can cause the tree to really suffer because it will not be able to produce enough food to survive. That’s why removing branches should always be done at the junction to the next branch or point of origin.”

When should you call in an expert to get the job done?

“If you are not experienced with chainsaws and tree trimming methods, call a tree trimming company.  Many commercial tree removal companies have an Arborist on staff to advise and diagnoses. State Extension Office may have staff or Master Gardeners available to look at plant samples and photos, free of charge. ”

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