Article by Greg Harris, owner of Leap Frog Landcare and Certified Arborist. Leap Frog Landcare is an organic based lawn, tree & shrub care company serving the Triangle area of NC, including Cary, Apex, Holly Springs, Fuquay Varina, Morrisville and Raleigh.
Having lived in the Cary/Apex/Holly Springs area of North Carolina for the past 30 years I always think of 2 things when people talk about tree care. Big trees and small trees! We have some massive trees in this area and we have some trees that are considered Ornamentals which are meant to stay smaller and add a great accent to your landscape.
January is a great time of the year to inspect your trees. It may seem odd to inspect the trees while the leaves are off, but that is the best time to see throughout the tree without leaves blocking your sight. Now, it may be tough to see way up in the big trees and you may need the help of an arborist to identify what is safe and what should be pruned off. A good arborist will be able to identify dead or decayed branches that need to be pruned off because they will not have buds on the ends of the small limbs. You see it is actually the beginning of the new leaves that are coming on the trees in the fall that causes the leaves to drop at that time. As spring gets closer the buds continue to grow. Anytime is a good time to prune out dead or decayed branches. However, you have to be careful of when you prune out the live branches. With the mild winters that we have here in the triangle area of NC January is a great time to prune live branches. It gives the tree a little time to heal over those areas before the spring sap rises. In a way it is like we get a scab after we’ve had a cut. This allows the sap to run right past where that limb was when it starts rising in the spring. If you have ever seen a ton of sap running out of a spot on a tree where a limb was cut off it is because that area wasn’t able to heal over before the sap started running.
A good rule of thumb to consider when pruning is to remove any dead, diseased or crossover branches. Crossover branches are branches that cross over each other and rub. This rubbing will normally lead to a weak area in one of the branches and make it more susceptible to disease, insects or possibly snapping.
The most critical thing to remember when you are pruning trees is to make proper cuts or hire someone that is knowledgeable about pruning, preferably a Certified Arborist. Its hard to explain in a few words how to make a proper cut, but the thing we can tell you not to do with trees is to cut the tops off of them, (this goes for the same with Crape Myrtles!!) Topping of trees is one of the most harmful things that you can do to them. A lot of trees, especially Crape Myrtles can survive, but it weakens them and makes them more susceptible to disease and insect damage each time it is done. Just because your neighbors top their Crape Myrtles doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do!