After the Storm – My Plea for Minimal Pruning

It IS important to clean up, so a certain amount of saw work is inevitable. But it doesn’t hurt to wait a minute on the re-shaping, even though the natural inclination is otherwise.

This is recent experience talking,

maple tree with leaves in snow

We got 22 inches of snow in the infamous October storm. Note that the maple not only has leaves; they haven’t even started to turn.

The loss list keeps expanding as falling leaves expose broken branches we missed earlier, but the general shape of the disaster has been clear for long enough to prompt a bit of family discussion on the subject of remedial pruning.


blooming giant magnolia tree

Somewhere between a third and a half of the magnolia, seen here in happier days.

snow-laden magnolia with breakage

It’s not too clear through the snow, but you can see it’s the middle that went.



Barely visible in back on the left: a bird's eye view of the top of one of the ancient plum trees. You don’t have to be a bird because the tree has snapped at the base and is now horizontal.

Also a 15 foot arbor vitae and most of the treasured oak leaf hydrangea it fell on

autumn color on oak leaf hydrangea

Arbor vitae and oak leaf hydrangea are a lovely combination – until they’re not.

and a great deal more.

A lot of the clean up was pretty much cut and dried – or cut, anyway  (saturated ground left by repeated heavy rains is one reason so many things went over)

But after we cleared away the broken branches, cut the stubs clean to prevent disease and removed unsafe imbalances, we were left with several trees that had – still have, actually – severe aesthetic problems, primarily in the form of  major branches that cry out for shortening or outright removal.

In spite of being perfectly healthy and unlikely to cause any trouble, they’re visual offenses: out of proportion, badly spaced, no longer harmonious with their surroundings.

Bill, who prunes the fruit trees and does all of the chain saw work, kept occupied at first

attaching a come along to a tree, using rope

The other plum tree was also recumbent, but not otherwise damaged, so he borrowed a neighbor’s come-along, pulled it back up

propping up a newly-righted tree

and braced it for the winter with a chunk of the recently-deceased arbor vitae.

But after that, having done a lot of pruning that was pure maintenance, he’s quite eager to keep going and address the art part. I, on the other hand, feel strongly that we should hide and wait at least until late winter. Two reasons:

1. Unless you’re cutting something to the ground for total regeneration, the standard rule for shrub and tree pruning is to remove no more than a third of the healthy wood each year. The storm has already done that and more.

2. I’m afraid to do anything that might further stimulate new growth. In theory, it’s so late in the season plants are already going dormant and won’t start trying to make fresh leaves until next spring. In practice, this here is being one warm November, no matter how inexorably the nights are getting longer. I see what looks a lot like swelling buds and would rather be safe than sorry.

Fortunately for the trees and for domestic harmony, just when he was about out of tasks the fishing started picking up. With luck he’ll be well occupied until it’s almost time to prune the trees that weren’t damaged.

snow photos by Bill Bakaitis

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1 Comment »

  • Susan Scheid Said,

    Hate to see what happened to all the beautiful ornamental shrubs you and others have. This was such a devastating storm. November, after that, did feel like a throwback temperature-wise!

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