Blog module icon

MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

Need Help?
For tips on subscribing, searching, and commenting, please visit our blog FAQ page.

View All Posts

Jan 23

Pruning Hacks

Posted on January 23, 2015 at 9:09 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

The past three weeks we have covered a throng of information about pruning whys and wherefores. Simply said, there are three reasons for pruning trees: Prune for your safety, the tree's health, and beauty.

Unfortunately, it is that time of year when blinders are needed to help alleviate the pain of seeing trees hacked by inexperienced hands that haven’t thought through the purposes of pruning. Sometimes I wonder if it is inexperience, lack of knowledge, or the attitude of "jest get 'r done." Either way, the outcome can be disastrous to the tree’s appearance, the tree’s health, and to anyone or anything unlucky enough to be around those trees in a storm.

 Pruning horror
 Pruning horror
I shudder when I see this attempt at pruning. The branch weighed too much to be removed with only one cut. That careless cut caused the heavy branch to rip into the bark and the cambium layer before departing from the body of the tree. There are no sealing properties left where the wood is exposed from the tear. This tree will, however, grow weak branch attachments from nodes where the bark is still attached at the cut. But like trying to attach something with the wrong type of glue, this type of growth will easily break off in high winds, becoming hazardous to anyone in the vicinity. Sadly this pruner did not consider safety, aesthetics, or the health of the tree!

With that said, let's set down some easy-to-learn ground rules about pruning:
  1. Always use the right tool for the job, as discussed in the blog three weeks ago.
  2. Never remove more than 1/3 of the tree's top growth in a year.
  3. Always make thinning cuts when reducing the height of a tree. That is, cut the entire limb back to another limb or trunk, rather than giving the tree a crew cut (also known as “topping”). Save the crew-cut look for hedges.
  4. When removing a heavy branch, make three cuts. The first cut is a small V undercut made away from the trunk to prevent the weight of the branch from ripping into the wood below. The second cut is made from above the limb and above the undercut (further away from the tree trunk) to remove the entire limb. The final cut is made next to the branch collar so the tree can seal properly. In time, a well-sealed tree wound will look like a doughnut. This link shows several methods for making good pruning cuts.
When it comes time to prune your trees and shrubs, if you don’t feel comfortable with the job, don’t hack. Hire a certified arborist, and check that they are experienced with the type of pruning you need. For example, some arborists do not specialize in fruit trees. Even if they use proper pruning cuts, they may inadvertently sacrifice your fruit production.

Also, remember to save some prunings to enhance the beauty of your home. Time your pruning to take advantage of quince, forsythia, pussy willows, and even fruiting tree twigs in bloom to make a beautiful statement in a vase in your home. And there is nothing better than saving fruit tree twigs to feed a BBQ fire. The fruity wood smoke will infuse the meat you are cooking. (Uncle Stan, I will never forget that turkey you barbequed years ago!)

Rebates: Five New Ways to Save

 video thumbnail
As a reminder, for a limited time MMWD is offering rebates up to $50 each for pool covers, hot water recirculating systems, organic mulch, laundry-to-landscape system components, and rain barrels. Get up to $250 for all five! To learn more, check out this video created by students at Ex'pression College in Emeryville, then visit


Woytek Zaborowski
January 26, 2015 at 8:50 AM
another great reference PlantAmnesty Working to end the senseless torture and mutilation of trees and shrubs

Leave your comment

You may log in before leaving your comment,
or submit anonymously