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Tree and Shrub Pruning 101: An Interview with Patrick George of Heartwood Tree

By Patrick George

Tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

We're a company of tree lovers and tree nerds. We've got 18 International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborists looking at or working on trees, two board certified Master Arborists and everyone from the HR department to the field Mankeys (cross between a man and a monkey) are Red Cross Certified for First Aid and CPR. We lead seasonal bicycle tours of locally interesting trees, support tree planting groups and name our kids after trees. We realize human life wouldn't be possible without trees and try to educate our clients to the value of trees. We offer "Cradle to Grave" services for trees. We plant, prune, treat, fertilize, inventory and remove them when they die or become hazardous.

What's one of the biggest mistakes that people can make when it comes to pruning their trees and shrubs?

Hire the wrong people which would first be anyone who doesn't protect their employees by having Workmans Compensation insurance. Second would be companies that are ignorant of seasonal influences of pruning, treating and planting practices. Third would be folks that never took the time to learn about trees and just want work. They'll tell you anything to have you prune or remove trees when it's not necessary.

Can you briefly describe what pruning is and why it's important?

There are 3 reasons to prune:
1) Safety, this will usually mean removing deadwood before it falls or reducing weight, length or height to prevent structural failure in high winds or storms.
2) Utility- This refers to keeping trees from touching houses or roofs, power lines or lifting the canopy so you can drive under trees without hitting them or having trucks damage them. It helps to extend the lives of roofs and paint jobs by keeping the trees away. Sometimes it's as simple as wanting more light on the lawn or garden.
3) Beauty- This is highly subjective as beauty is in the eye of the beholder! Since we normally do this every 3 years or more, it's important to understand what your tree will look like a year after the work is done.

When should pruning usually be done in most yards?

This depends on which of the reasons you're pruning for. You can remove deadwood anytime but you don't want to do severe structural pruning unless the tree is dormant since you'll usually be removing the most productive and protective parts of the limbs. You can lift the bottom of the crown of the tree just about anytime as long as you're not removing more than 25% of the leaf area. Pruning for aesthetics can normally be done anytime as long as your not removing the top or more than 25% of the canopy.

What tools do you need to prune a tree/shrub, and what are the basic steps in the process?

First, a cell phone. You want to get good advice prior to tackling what is recognized as the second most dangerous profession behind fire fighting. NEVER, never prune from a ladder. Google "Tree pruning accidents on a ladder" and you'll know why. Some really scary stuff. Sharp tools. Dull saws and snippers wear you out making you more prone to make a mistake and they damage the cambium around the cuts.

Do you have any other pruning tips for homeowners?

Use industry consumer web sites to get information on proper pruning practices such as This site was created by the International Society of Arboriculture for consumers. Try the NC Extension service or That's the the Tree Care Industry Associations website which can link you to member companies.

What's the best way for people to contact you and your company?

The best way is to call during the week during regular business hours. 704-525-3066. Someone will take your concerns and information and set up an appointment if appropriate with an ISA Certified Arborist to either answer questions or give estimates. You can always email us as well, and we'll work from there.

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