Deciduous trees are often called the bones of the garden. They give shape and form to the garden regardless of the season.
In the summer, they are part of the backdrop as more attention is given to plants that flower.
In the fall, the leaves change colour and can be stunning.
Winter shows the true shape of the trees: linear, round, oval, etc., along with the colour of bark that is otherwise hidden by foliage.
By the end of April, the first trees will be starting to flower.
Each variety of tree has its own cycle and growth habits but they all contribute to the landscape.
The first step to planting a tree is to decide what type of tree and where to plant it. Everything within a landscape should have a purpose.
Know the size of the plant at maturity.
Trees that grow too large for where they are planted will become a problem.
Pruning can keep the size in check for a while but not forever. Eventually the tree will grow into their predetermined size and shape.
Deciduous trees are best pruned when they are dormant. Before making any cut, know the natural shape of the tree and try to stay inside that frame. Look at the existing tree to determine if it has one trunk or is multi-stemmed.
Start by removing all dead, damaged or diseased wood.
Dead wood can be identified a number of ways. The bark can be loose or shriveled. When held in the hand, dead wood will become warm. Live wood will remain cold.
Live wood will be flexible while dead wood is apt to break. If still in doubt, scratch the top layer of bark off and look for a green layer underneath. A very pale layer is a sign that the wood is alive but not healthy.
Diseased wood is noticeable as it will look different from the rest of the plant. Often areas of bark are shrunk, leaving an indent or the bark is a different colour.
Broken branches are easy to spot when the limbs are bare. Once they are removed, the tree can heal by forming a callus over the wound. A smooth cut heals faster than a rough or jagged one.
When removing any branch, make the cut back to an existing branch or the trunk of the tree. Any stump that is left will rot. While it is unlikely to kill the tree, it makes it impossible for the tree to heal and is not attractive.
Diseased wood needs to be removed or it is likely to kill the tree and spread to surrounding trees. Remove the diseased material and cut back into healthy wood.
Either burn the diseased material immediately or double bag it and take it to the transfer station. Leaving diseased material in the yard will allow the disease to spread.
Next, look for branches that are rubbing or crossing.
Branches that rub or cross will become weak and are more likely to break than other ones. Removing one early will allow the plant to put its energy into other parts of the plant.
When deciding which branch to remove consider: the size and health of both branches, the directions the branches are growing and the overall shape of the plant. The desired result is an attractive, healthy plant.
Remove suckers as they appear around the base of the tree.
Take care not to remove over a quarter of the branches in one season.
Removing too many branches will stress the tree, causing it to send out a large number of suckers and/or water sprouts which will need to be removed next year.
Taking time to prune on a yearly basis means that small amounts are removed at any given time.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist who lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at www.igardencanada.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.