It sure looks like spring on the west side of Washington state. Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) alerts us with its distinctive scent, which leads us to discover the unusual flowers such as snowdrops, camellias, hellebores and hazels that brighten the landscape.

With longer days, folks are inspired to tackle both inside and outside spring cleaning tasks. One that often comes to mind is pruning. Even as I gaze in appreciation of blooming forbs at this time of year, there are those moments when I stare aghast at, with a nod to the late Cass Turnbull, new cases of “tree torture.” In the arboriculture industry, we call the practice “topping,” but it is also called tipping, shaping or even hat-racking.

Any time a tree is cut, an open wound is created which the tree must grow around. Before the cut is sealed-off – or compartmentalized – wounds are exposed to pathogens that can lead to decay. It is important to be mindful when selecting branches to cut and to have a reason to cut them.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen plenty of flowering trees topped this spring. It is obvious that the cuts were not selective and undertaken for no other reason, perhaps, than it is spring and “the tree needs to be pruned.” How sad. Cherries, like many flowering trees, bear flowers on last year’s woody branches. When you prune branches on flowering trees at this time of year, you also prune off the flowers. In my opinion, the bright pink blossoms of cherry trees are the most the redeeming quality of the tree, which is otherwise prone to pests and diseases and has reputation for aggressive root systems that disrupt infrastructure.

There are some great online resources that can teach you how to prune the right way. For a short, quick summary of best practices, check out “How to Prune Trees” by our partners the US Forest Service. For a more comprehensive source, navigate to “Pruning shade trees in landscapes,” on the “Landscape Plants” website by Dr. Ed Gilman and the University of Florida.

We also offer pruning workshops for tree managers and staff.

See the article in this edition of tree link titled: Timely Tree Tips—The perils of early spring pruning.

By Linden J. Lampman, program manager, DNR Urban and Community Forestry Program