You have a perfectly healthy tree on your property. Healthy, that is, except for the dead and dying branches growing from one particular limb. Perhaps the limb was damaged somehow, or maybe it was struck with disease. Either way, leaving it can’t be good for the tree, right? On the other hand, however, does cutting off dead branches help a tree? Or will well-intentioned pruning just make things worse?
The answer can tend to be complex. It’s certainly true that pests and disease can spread easily from a dead limb to the rest of an otherwise healthy tree. However, it’s also true that if pruning a dead branch isn’t done correctly, it can just make the problem worse.
How To Tell If a Tree Branch Is Dead
Simply having no leaves is not actually proof that a branch has died. Perfectly healthy trees often lose their leaves, especially during the wintertime when their metabolisms slow and they enter a state of hibernation. However, if a branch is hibernating but still living, it will still have some give to it. If you attempt to snap off a dead branch, it will break off easily and be both dry and brittle. You should also check for obvious evidence of disease in your branches, such as the telltale bark fissures caused by the devastatingemerald ash borer, a pest that has killed tens of millions of trees in North America alone.
How To Decide If a Dead Branch Should Be Removed
Before making any major decisions regarding pruning away dead limbs or branches, it’s a good idea to figure out why, exactly, your tree branches have died. There are several reasons why this may be the case; some are natural, some are not. For example, it’s perfectly normal for branches to occasionally die off as part of the tree’s regular life cycle. All trees go through a period of self-thinning, where they shed excess branches to conserve water and nutrients.
While this is normal, it’s also possible that your tree isn’t getting the resources it needs. If that’s the case, it may begin to look weak and unhealthy. Self-thinning of the branches can be the first sign of this.
If your tree is suffering from malnutrition, it’s not a problem you can fix by pruning the tree. Instead, you’ll have to address the larger problem. Sometimes, it can be as simple as your tree needing more water. Your tree may also be competing for resources with other nearby plant life, which may need to be thinned.
It’s also possible leaves and branches can start to die off as the result of a fungus or other infection. If this is the case, it’s important to prune the tree quickly, as the fungus can easily spread to the rest of the tree and ultimately prove devastating to its health. In some cases, an unchecked fungal infestation can kill your tree.
There is also the issue of safety. No matter why a branch seems to be sick or dead, if it poses a safety hazard to people or property, it must be removed. A falling branch can cause a great deal of damage, and regular pruning can help to prevent this.
Can Dead Branches Grow Back?
Some tree owners hesitate when it comes to removing obviously dead or diseased branches because they worry their tree will never be the same, that the dead branches cannot grow back the way they were before. If your tree is otherwise healthy, however, you needn’t be worried. Trees have a remarkable ability to heal themselves and to recover from damage, provided the cause of that damage is removed and the tree is properly cared for. It’s important, however, to ensure your tree is pruned properly so that the tree can recover from the damage effectively.
The Pruning Process
By now, you know that the answer to the question, “Does cutting off dead branches help a tree?” is usually, “Yes.” However, it must be done properly, or you may only make the problem worse. First, make sure you have the correct equipment for the job. A set of pruning shears is key, and they must be extremely sharp. If they’re not, the dull shears may gouge and maim the tree, damaging previously healthy tissue. They should also be sterilized before doing any work to prevent spreading bacteria or fungus to other parts of the tree. A mixture of one part bleach to nine parts water will make a solution that can effectively sterilize your equipment.
You will need to have proper safety equipment to prune a tree: closed-toed shoes, long sleeves, long pants, heavy gloves, and eye protection are important. If you plan to climb into the tree itself to do the pruning, you will need ropes to secure yourself, as well as a spotter to assist you with the job. Never climb into a tree if you don’t feel safe doing so, and take great care to ensure you don’t injure the tree while you’re climbing. If you do, the injured areas may become infected and may weaken or kill the tree.
When you trim away the dead branches, make sure you don’t leave any dead wood in place. Otherwise, whatever issue killed the branches in the first place will simply come back. You don’t want to cut too much, however, and you especially don’t want to cut into the branch collar, where the tree branch connects to the tree itself. If you do, your tree will struggle to heal itself. In most cases, your best option is to cut the branch away piecemeal, removing bit by bit until you notice that the wood you are cutting into is springy, green, and living.
Ongoing Care of Your Tree
Usually, the best way to ensure your tree stays healthy is to have it regularly cared for by a trained arborist from a company likeMr. Tree, located in the Portland, Oregon, area. Periodically, they can do an inspection to check if there are any signs of disease, malnutrition, or other common tree problems. If any pruning is necessary, your arborist can do so and also ensure that your tree receives proper aftercare to prevent the reoccurrence of any diseases or pest infestations.