Pruning With an Expert

Marla Meyer Papernick, Program Manager

On a clear, crisp fall day in early November, a group of twelve tree-lovers gathered at Keystone State Park to learn best pruning practices with Celine Colbert, service forester with the state Bureau of Forestry, with a reputation as a “pruning guru.”  Part of the Ask the Expert Series sponsored by the Trail Committee of the Laurel Highlands Conservation Landscape, the pruning workshop was targeted for folks doing trail maintenance. The LHCL Trail Committee is one of four topical committees in the Laurel Highlands Conservation Landscape working to advance the goals of the Landscape. The committee members represent the four counties of the LHCL and work to support planning and development of trails and trail networks to enhance recreation and economic growth, and to promote livability. To up our pruning game, experienced and neophyte pruners representing local and state government and conservation nonprofits had the chance to put our pruners and saws to use under Celine’s tutelage.

Kicking off the day, Celine advised, “Pruning trees is like surgery: you want clean, sharp tools to do the job.” She then whipped out her pocket-sized spray bottle of alcohol and we sprayed our clippers and saws and headed toward our first patient. Throughout the workshop, the medical analogy ran through my brain – “do no harm” was the unstated theme of her instruction.

Even the most experienced participants raved about how much they learned in this two-hour workshop. Vince Mackell, Linn Run and Laurel Mountain State Parks, was genuinely and pleasantly surprised. “I’ve been cutting trees professionally for 10 years and never expected to learn so much at a tree pruning class,” he said.

While I can’t share everything we learned because, well, you had to be there with your clippers, some key advice that we will all remember and implement:

  • Mother Nature is on the job – trees are somewhat self-pruning; we don’t have to make them perfect
  • Foster a strong tree – take no more than 25% of the live crown so that a healthy canopy remains to feed the tree
  • Get the dead out – trim dead wood first and it doesn’t count toward your 25 percent of total removal
  • Neatness counts – make round clean, round cuts close to the base of branch to encourage callus growth
  • Size matters – when removing large limbs, compare the diameter of the limb to the diameter of the tree, if the limb diameter is greater than 50% of tree diameter, leave it alone

After practicing our skills on four or five trees over the course of one-and-a-half hours, everyone was beaming. Corny as it sounds, we were all really excited and everyone kept remarking about how much they learned. Celine truly is a pruning guru and if you ever have the chance to take a walk in the woods with her and her clippers, do it!

For more information about the Laurel Highlands Conservation Landscape and the Ask the Expert Series, send me an email at [email protected]. We would love to have you join us.