Home Is Where Your Trees Are

Pruning Your Shade Trees. Part 1

"Prune my yard trees?" the old fanner snorts. "Heck, they prune themselves!" And it isn't just one old farmer. Lots of heedless home owners take the same view. Of course, they are quite right, too. Nature does see to it that trees shed members that have become excessive or shaded out or badly damaged. The forest floor is strewn with kindling wood. But the very fact that Nature does so provide only proves that pruning is necessary. Without question, man can do a better job. When a tree "prunes itself the resultant stub, or an open scar on the parent member, seldom heals entirely unless it is quite small. Left as an entry for insects or fungus is an exposed area of inner tissues through which invasions will spread for years to come. Through such lesions the tree loses moisture by evaporation, or takes in water where it does not belong, causing decay. The only perfect seal is scar tissue, called callus in trees, put out by the cambium layer. Man's surgery can help callus growth close over more quickly and surely than in Nature's casual sloughing-off process.

To some people unfamiliar with them, trees are mysterious to the point of being untouchable. Many a new owner, aware that his tree is a living organism, flinches from cutting any part of it as he would from operating on his child or even his dog. Trees are much more rugged than dogs or children. They feel no pain, and they will survive a few mistakes. Coupled with some understanding of tree physiology, good intentions can soon be translated into good results. It is not suggested that home owners go up into their big trees with ladders and ropes. Leave the high work to professionals. But by learning, with your feet on the ground, to prune your young trees and mature ones of the smaller species - say, up to fifteen-footers - you can increase and insure your property's value at small cost.

All your trees will take on new interest and meaning for you. A light labor of love today will reward you through many tomorrows. If wielding tools does not suit you, study the art and teach it to a helper. Plenty of people "prune" their own trees with a bamboo pole for a pointer.Let proper tools be the beginning of your new wisdom. Unless you mislay them or let the neighbors borrow, one set can last you a lifetime. You may as well start with the best. Item one is pruning shears, the kind with heavy-duty blades so opposed that they cut closer on one side than the other. They should be at least eight inches long over-all, with broad handles for a firm grip. Ladylike "snips" are only frustrating. If your arms and fingers are short, get shears with long wooden handles. Take a fair-sized branch with you into the store and settle for no shears that will not make a half-inch cut without effort. The kind without reopening springs is least prone to rust shut. Painted red or orange rather than green, your shears will be found sooner when you drop them into grass.

Tastes differ in handsaws - straight-blade or curved - but one rule prevails for all pruning saws: at least six teeth to the inch. Coarser gauges tend to rip and tear on cuts of less than four inches, which is what most of yours will be. The so-called "speed" saws are for professionals in a hurry. For home-owner use, a 15-inch curved blade with metal or plastic grip is ideal. The curve is helpful on cuts that must be made overhead or reached out for, with reduced wrist pressure. Also, it is handy for hooking free the cuttings that hang up. If you decide you prefer a straight blade, don't get one with teeth on both edges. These look like laborsavers, but they do a lot of inadvertent damage. The upper curf hits unintended targets. Polesaws, with teeth slanted toward you for pull-cutting, have curved blades that fit into "heads" socketed for 8- to 16-foot handles. Blade and handle are replaceable. When the one wears dull it is not worth resharpening. The other, being of light, brittle wood, has a way of breaking when you drop or step on it. The expense of keeping on hand a spare blade and pole is not exorbitant. The most important and expensive part of your polesaw is its head. Avoid the kind where the blade is fastened in by a wing nut, which a knock can loosen. Better are flat nuts or heavy cotter pins or countersunk screws. Be sure your head has a slot in the back to hold your paint brush. A lot of reaching and clambering is saved by pole-painting your high cuts. Pole-pruners, like shears, should be selected for rugged-ness and for having the cutter so offset that it will slice flush when laid on properly.

The kind operated by a Ian-yard through screw eyes along the pole will stand up longer and repair more easily than the more expensive type on which a hand-lever actuates a rod to the cutting head. Tree paint (wound dressing) has in recent years become handily available to home owners. It even comes now in handy aerosol cans, for spraying on. The different brands vary little in composition. An asphaltum base with turpentine or mineral oil added is standard. Keep it thinned with linseed oil or it will blister on the wounds. It does not speed callus growth, but it protects wounds until callus covers them by keeping out the fungi of decay. Don't try to "make do" with lead or copper house paints. They peel, and may poison tender tissues. Shun creosote and roofing tars. Orange shellac, brushed over the bark and sapwood around the edges of a cut before covering the whole wound with tree paint, is desirable but not essential.