Integrity Tree ServiceIntegrity Tree Service

Tree Trimming or Pruning?

What’s the Difference and Why it Matters

When people ask for help pruning their trees, many aren’t sure what to ask for. Tree trimming or pruning? They know their trees need work but they don’t how to describe it. Tree service ads don’t help. They use terms such as trimming, cutting, topping, rounding, crowning, heading, shearing, lacing, sculpting, wind-sailing and the list goes on. The words describe pruning operations but don’t explain what will be done. They leave tree owners scratching their heads and often disappointed with the results.

Lion's Tailing - An Unacceptable Pruning Practice
Lion’s Tailing – An Unacceptable Pruning Practice

To help clear up the confusion, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) developed a pruning standard called the the ANSI A300. The A300, based on best management practices for tree health and safety, was created to help arborists write better pruning specifications so tree owners would know what work was being done.

The A300 recommends that proposals clearly state:

Pruning objectives: Such as structural improvement, size reduction, building clearance, etc.

Pruning types to be used: Such as crown cleaning, thinning, raising, reducing and restoring.

Minimum and maximum branch diameter for cuts: ½ inch, 2 inch, 6 inch, etc.

Maximum % of foliage removed: 5%, 10%, 25%, etc.

Tree pruning specifications are to an arborist what a set of blueprints is to a building contractor. They define the pruning outcomes that are planned and how they will be achieved. They tell what will and will not be done. They put the contractor, the tree owner and the crew all on the same page. And in the end, they clarify expectations and create a win-win for everyone.

When contracting for tree pruning services, request that your tree care provider define terms, establish clear objectives and describe the specific pruning types the workers will employ to achieve those objectives. If service providers have difficulty describing the scope of work and measurable outcomes, it may be an indication that they lack the knowledge and skill to prune trees correctly. And the last thing you want is for your trees to be damaged, sometimes beyond repair, by unacceptable pruning practices such as topping or lion’s tailing.

Tree Topping - An Unacceptable Pruning Practice
Tree Topping – An Unacceptable Pruning Practice

For a better experience, consider selecting a qualified company that provides clear pruning specifications based on the ANSI A300. You’ll be glad you did, and so will your trees!

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Prepare Your Trees for Summer Part 4

Rain and Wind Dynamics

Fallen Euc

Wind forces act upon trees in unique ways depending on the distribution of foliage throughout the entire tree crown as well as along individual branches. Thinning cuts as well as reduction cuts help reduce the drag (wind resistance) on the tree canopy and lower the height of the pressure center to larger diameter wood. To prepare your trees for summer winds, a combination of both types of pruning is needed but especially reduction pruning. Research has shown that reduction pruning to alleviate end weight is the best type of pruning to decrease risk of tree and branch failure.

A big mistake is to over-thin trees with the idea that this makes them safer. There is an unacceptable pruning technique called Lion’s Tailing that removes an excessive number of smaller branches from a tree’s interior at the neglect of the outer third of the crown. You’ve probably seen these sorry, stripped-out specimens on your street. The wind blows through their lower crown but is concentrated now in the lion tails of heavy foliage that flag in the wind and often break. Properly thinned branches have an even distribution of foliage along the entire length of the branch. Consequently the force of the wind is now evenly distributed along the length of the branch, transferring that force to the base of the branch where the diameter is greater and it can better support the branch movement.

Tips to prepare your trees for summer storms:

  • Plant trees in groups. They buffer the wind from their neighbor trees.
  • Turn off your water! Excessive irrigation prior to a wind event can lead to entire tree failure. So turn off your watering system when a major monsoon storm is coming.
  • Don’t Lion Tail your trees.
  • Concentrate pruning in the outer third of the canopy using primarily reduction pruning techniques. Proper reduction pruning requires special skill to avoid making heading or stub cuts. If your trees are large or have excessive end weight, consider hiring a Certified Arborist to help out.

If you prune your own trees, consider attending one of my upcoming pruning classes. I will be teaching a class at the Desert Botanical Garden on June 22nd. Click here for more information or to register.

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Prepare Your Trees for Summer Part 3


To prepare your trees for summer, there is nothing more important than proper watering. Doing it well can be a challenge in the desert, but the following tips should help.

Soaker Hose Dripping
  • The first secret of watering desert trees is to know your how well your soil holds water. Because different soils drain differently, they require different amounts of water and different watering frequencies. You can use a soil probe, available at most good nurseries, to determine how quickly your soil dries out and needs water again. More on soil probes below.
  • Once you know the rate that water percolates through your soil, you can precisely set the DURATION of the irrigation cycle in order to water to the full depth of the root zone.
  • This is important because trees are commonly over-watered. We assume trees need more water because the SURFACE soil looks dry. But many desert soils have a high water-holding capacity. Three to six inches below the dry surface, the soil profile is cooler and can often hold water for several days or weeks.
  • The point is to avoid putting water on top of water. This is not only wasteful; it also sets up conditions for various disease pathogens.
  • Using the soil probe, you can also determine watering FREQUENCY, that is the number of days between waterings. The goal is to apply water when the root zone completely dries out. A simple test to determine watering frequency is to watch your trees for signs of afternoon wilting. If the leaves of your tree or shrub begin to curl at the edges (wilt) after 10 days, set your watering cycle for 8 or 9 days.

Stay tuned for my series on Irrigation next month. In the meantime, for a closer look at watering and using a soil probe, visit our Integrity Tree Service Fact Sheets here.

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Prepare Your Trees for Summer Part 2

Staking and Guying

After you have selected a great tree, it may be necessary to stake it temporarily until it gets established. Here are some tips on tree staking and guying to help prepare your trees for that first summer wind storm.

Proper tree stakes

After planting, only stake or guy your tree if necessary. The goal is to train the tree to be on its own, not to prevent it from moving. A staking system should serve only as a failsafe.

If the tree needs to be staked, suspend it between the stakes firmly enough to prevent it from falling over but loose enough to allow it to move slightly in the wind.

Use a soft material such as nylon webbing to tie the tree to the stakes.

If the tree has a stake tied directly to the trunk, it should be removed at the time of planting. This “travel stake” is only intended to get the tree to its final destination and can cause damage to the trunk if not removed.

Finally, be sure to monitor the stakes regularly and remove them as soon as the tree roots are anchored in the surrounding native soil, usually within the first year after planting.

Next up: Prepare Your Tree for Summer Part 3 – Irrigation

Prepare Your Trees for Summer Part 1

Tree Selection and Planting

Low Growth v Lollipop 2

Trees are one of our most valuable assets. They provide shade, energy savings, wildlife habitat, aesthetic beauty and increased property value to our homes, businesses and communities. Here are some tips on tree selection and planting to help prepare your trees for summer. 

Next up: Prepare Your Tree for Summer Part 2 – Staking and Guying

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Tree Frost Damage Recovery Plan

frost-damage citrusPruning out dead leaves and branches at the right time and in the right way is critical to plan t health. Here are some guidelines for getting your frost-damaged plants back on track.

When to remove frost-damaged foliage 
The best time to remove frost-damaged foliage is after February 15th, the average last day of frost in the Phoenix area. That date can vary slightly for other cities. As February 15th approaches, watch the weather forecast for late freeze warnings. If the forecast is too cold, wait until temperatures rise. Try to finish pruning no later than mid-March so juvenile growth can get established before hot temperatures arrive.
How to remove frost-damaged foliage
When you are ready to prune, start by doing a scratch test with a small knife or your fingernail on the smallest twigs and branches to determine the extent of the frost damage. The cambium just below the bark should reveal a bright green color on healthy wood. If the scratch test reveals brown or black tissue, the wood is dead. Continue your scratch test on larger wood until you find the
transition zone where green wood starts. You can prune just below that point.
If you wait until new growth emerges to find out the extent of frost damage, it is harder to remove the dead foliage without damaging the new juvenile growth. It is especially difficult to extricate hard dead branches on trees like citrus that have especially tender, weakly attached new shoots. By removing dead branches earlier, full sunlight can reach the plant interior and new foliage will emerge without interference. Earlier pruning also gives new foliage maximum time to get established and harden off before hot temperatures arrive.
Plant response and restorative pruning
All trees and shrubs respond differently to frost damage. Some are frost-hardy and don’t suffer damage. Others have minor tip die-back. Some lose small branches, some major limbs. Some die right to the ground but their root systems are still alive.
Regardless of how much damage occurs above ground, undamaged root systems can remain healthy and are ready to produce new foliage. To equalize the normal root to shoot ratio, a riot of new growth emerges. Clumps of vigorous, upright and disorganized shoots grow from cut branch ends as well as along stems and even trunk wood. These random and unattractive branches lack normal density and can be a challenge to prune. But these clumps of foliage help protect plants from too much sun and are a key to survival. They replace essential photosynthetic leaf surface needed for production of sugars and starches, the energy resources plants need for growth, reproduction and defense.
So the goal at first is plant recovery. Restoration of plant growth habit is important but should wait until foliage is full and plant energy reserves are restored. For the first few months, the best practice is to allow plants to go wild. For the first six months to a year, limit pruning to minor shaping of exterior branches. After that, begin to thin out the crowded branches that emerged from cut branch ends. When restoring these clusters, leave branches with the strongest attachment to their host stem and that grow in a favorable direction.
It may take more than one season but with patience, restoration pruning can return plants to their beautiful pre-frost condition.