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As I was taking advantage of a warmer day recently to accomplish a couple outdoor tasks, I noticed several of the deciduous trees in my yard needed pruning. Did you know that the best time to prune most deciduous trees is when they are in full dormancy?

In this part of the United States, February or March is a good time to prune deciduous trees. It is important that they are pruned while they are fully dormant. If pruned too early, and not fully dormant, they may produce new shoots that can be killed by cold temperatures.

Another important reason to prune most deciduous trees during colder months, especially trees like oak, is that pruning wounds can attract beetles in the summer months. These beetles can carry diseases such as oak wilt, which can potentially kill your tree.

In the winter you can easily see the trunk and branches, which makes it easier to determine which ones should be removed. Begin by removing dead or damaged branches. Next remove branches that are crossing others where the rubbing can cause a wound.

The next step is to remove branches growing toward the center of the tree. By thinning the center of the tree you will increase air movement within the canopy during the growing season, which can reduce the potential for disease. Then, remove any branches with narrow crotch angles or multiple leaders. A multiple leader will be a branch that seems to be trying to take over as the main trunk.

If you have large mature trees that need to be pruned, it may be best to contact a certified arborist. They will have the necessary tools and safety equipment to safely prune large trees. It is very dangerous to use a chainsaw or even hand saws when standing on a ladder, so leave that task to a professional.

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When it comes to pruning, the correct tools will make the job easier and the final results better for the tree. You can use sharp hand shears for small branches up to ¼" in diameter, and lopping shears for branches up to 1 inch in diameter.

If you need to remove branches over 1 inch in diameter, a pruning saw should be used. Pole pruners can be used to reach branches beyond your reach, while still standing on the ground. Remember, if you have large branches to remove make three cuts to remove them. The first cut is made several inches away from the swollen branch collar region near the trunk. Then a second cut removes the branch and is made toward the branch tip, outside of the first cut. A final cut is then made to remove the branch stub you created with the first two cuts. This third cut should be made on the outside edge of the branch collar region.

Pruning wounds created in the process of branch removal do not need to be painted or sealed. Research has shown that it is not as helpful as once believed. So just let the tree heal itself.

Finally, remember that large tree pruning is best left to an arborist with the necessary equipment to keep you safe and your property below those large branches from being damaged. If you're in need of a certified arborist, the International Society of Arboriculture has an online directory of certified arborists. It can be found at treesaregood.org.

For more information on University of Illinois Extension programming in Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Moultrie and Shelby counties, visit our website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/ccdms/index.html or call us at 217-345-7034.

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