Questions On: Tree Pruning
Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service
Q: As far as I can decipher, I have an American basswood tree. The leaves seem to be a perfect match to pictures I have found. Along with the leaves are these oar-shaped things. The flowers don't seem to emit any odor, and I have read the Basswood flowers are fragrant. It is growing close to my driveway in front of my house in southeastern Indiana. The problem is that it is very messy. There is no time during the year that it isn't dropping something -- little dried up berries, leaves, and most annoying are the twigs that fall even after the slightest breeze. The main branches grow almost vertically, but the smaller branches seem to grow downward. So, does this sound like it is a basswood? And if so, are these "healthy" characteristics? I am fed up with the thing, and am ready to have it cut down (all 100 feet of it). However, if it isn't healthy, is there something I should be doing? (E-mail reference)
A: In every way except the lack of fragrance from the flowers, it sounds like a basswood (Tilia spp.). And no, the messiness isn't normal, at least from my perspective. I love the tree so much it is hard for me to find fault with it. The only mess I have ever associated with this species is the shedding of the bracts that subtend the flowers. This usually occurs in mid summer, then the leaf drop occurs in autumn. Since your tree is so large, it is bound to have a collection of dead twigs that are going to be strewn around as a result of any winds. It sounds like you have quite the specimen tree. I'd hate to see you cut it down. Perhaps a local certified arborist or tree surgeon could come out and do some remedial pruning for you to relieve some of the frustration.
A: Cotoneasters respond well to pruning just about anytime except late summer or fall. Pruning now will give the cuts plenty of time to heal before the onset of winter. Often they are given a pruning in the early spring to "freshen" up their appearance for summer growth. Those "pimples" that you very descriptively refer to are really galls that are formed by midges feeding and laying eggs in the very early spring. These galls will not hurt anything. They are simply outgrowths of the insect's activity earlier in the season. Nothing more than cosmetic damage and most likely, will not be there next year.
Q: When is the best time to prune deciduous trees and shrubs? (e-mail)
A: All pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs is best done in the early spring when they are still dormant. The pruning down to the ground of lilacs and other shrubs also is best done when they are dormant. Selective pruning of trees can be done any time that it is necessary, but if the pruning is just for aesthetics, then wait until next year and do it when they are still dormant.
Q: My parents bought a Contorted Filbert tree last year, and they are now wondering what to do about the suckers coming out of the ground. From what I can gather, they are supposed to cut them. I would like to know the pruning methods and what not. I know that they know how to prune a tree. It's just that they like their little weird tree and don't want to kill it by pruning it too early or too soon.(Taylor, Mich., e-mail)
A: The Harry Lauder's Walkingstick, as your parents' tree is also known, requires almost no pruning EXCEPT for the suckers, which they will need to stay on top of. Perhaps the best way to manage suckers is with some landscape fabric (not plastic sheeting!) over the root zone. This will allow some air and water to enter but keeps the weeds and suckers in check--somewhat. Other than that, simply cut off anything that is dead or broken, diseased or insect infested. That tree will have interesting characteristics as it matures.
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