Tree Trimming: Too Early, Too Late or Timing Perfect in Southern Utah?

Untrimmed Palm with Petiole Protected | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic in St. George April 29, 2011

SOUTHERN UTAH – Spring enlivens senses of Southern Utah desert dwellers to coax their yards, foliage and trees to life from dormancy after what often feels like a long winter.  As eagerly inviting as this process can be, early trimming of some trees can be just as threatening to the trees’ rejuvenation as can be delayed trimming.

Mark Hodges, owner of Arbor Tech, who sits on the City of St. George’s Shade Tree and Beautification Board and the Utah Community Forestry Council, offers some tree trimming considerations.

“The best for the health of the tree, on trimming, 95 percent of the time as a general rule, is to trim the tree in the wintertime while the tree is dormant.”

However, Hodges said, it is not always best for the owner’s pocketbook to winter trim because they will then have to do a “spring flush” when the suckers come out.

“Pruning stimulates growth.”

“A good arborist will only take off about ¼ to 1/3 of the tree because it eliminates an excessive spring flush. If more has been taken, you have more to trim in the springtime; so, the best for your money actually (although tree trimming businesses don’t like to tell you this) can be to wait until after springtime when the tree has expended its energy in growing.  You can then prune it once, instead of twice – the tree will still offer shade, will still be aesthetically pleasing, but trimmed earlier you still have to deal with the spring flush.”

Nevertheless, spring is fine for pruning 90 percent of the trees in the Southern Utah region, Hodges said; exceptions are flowering trees and fruit trees (trees that produce nuts and fruits), which must be trimmed while dormant.  Once a fruit tree has flowered, the time for trimming is past and trimming it then before the next dormant season will damage the tree; it has expended its energy towards fruit bearing (which couples with flowering) and will not recover from a late trimming.

Palms are best trimmed before it gets hot; that is, generally, before March through August. When it is hot, Hodges said, you don’t do anything; you don’t feed, you don’t trim and you don’t do anything. Except – you have to adjust this restricted period based on the weather, the temperature and the wind. And birthing of consistent hot temperature in Southern Utah can lurch back and forth between highs and lows in the process.

“We had a terrible windstorm recently (in fact, at the time of writing this article we are experiencing another such windstorm) – people that pruned all those palms to a little stick that is green made the new growth bare and vulnerable.”

The big dry fronds that appear to be dead actually serve to protect the new young petiole, exclaims Hodges passionately.  Petioles, for those who are not up to speed on arborist vocabulary, are the stalks that join a leaf to the stem –in this context, the new growth.

Another big mistake people make with plants damaged by a freeze is trimming too early.

“You must give them a chance to come back, to recover, before trimming them.  For example, take an olive tree – you do not know where the tissue is in that olive tree that is still alive. If you trim it too early, you might be cutting into live tissue that the tree needs to use to come back.”

Depending on the trees, this weekend and the coming month of May might be ideally suitable for trimming the overgrowth. But, if they are fruit bearing, already flowered, letting them be until winter dormancy is your best option.

About Mark Hodges

Hodges won an entrepreneurial contest at Dixie High School, in his youth, being awarded $3,000 for running his own professional tree service.  That tree service is ongoing today. As his business developed, he went on to work for the City of St. George as the City Forester, obtained his degree in arboriculture (the study of trees) from Dixie College, continued his personal career and expertise obtaining the title of master gardener, receiving his UNLA certification (certified nursery man, he interprets) and so it goes. He has taught classes and seminars on plants and things of this nature, and presently serves on the City’s Shade Tree Board, among other things.

As suggested in St. George News’ article of April 14, addressing The Top Four Problems Impairing Trees in Southern Utah, Hodges recommends a certified arborist or nursery professional familiar with concerns particular to your own trees be consulted when they arise.  His own company, Arbor Tech in St. George, offers such service and can be contacted at 435-632-0972.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2011, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • Tyler December 20, 2013 at 3:53 am

    Good story I just came across Googling “how cold can palm trees survive”. After our record breaking cold last week, anybody think our palms made it? I observed some around the ‘heart’ part of the trees in front of where I work and although the fronds are severely frost damaged, there’s still hints of green at the bases of the fronds near the ‘heart’. It’d be a miracle if especially the more sensitive Mexican fan palms (Washingtonia robusta) survived our insane temp. of about zero one night. Most however survived last year’s two nights of 12 degrees. Any takers for advice?

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