Trim, don't 'top' trees

Published April 17, 2005

How should you trim your trees to prepare for hurricane season?

Severe pruning or "topping" large trees is not a good idea. Topping opens large branch areas to insects and disease. The practice also causes growth of weak wood called "water sprouts." These sprouts never become strong and wind-resistant.

Leave lower branches in place on large trees. They act as a buffer to help break the force if the tree does fall.

Many tree services offer a "hurricane cut" for palm trees, where most fronds are removed, leaving only two or three in place. This is not an acceptable practice.

The fronds produce food through photosynthesis. Removing them starves the palm. This practice can make the palm more susceptible to wind and disease damage. Dead fronds and seed clusters should be removed so that they do not become hazards in high winds.

As for shrubs, remove dead and dying branches that touch the house or roof. Pruning shears and saws should be dipped in a weak alcohol or bleach solution to prevent spread of disease. Remove branches that cross and those that look out of place.

If the shrub is still too thick, remove older branches. Cut back excessively long growth to a bud or lateral branch that is 4 to 6 inches.

Do not use hedge shears. Cut each branch separately with hand shears; this will maintain a neat, informal shrub that retains its natural shape.

If you have questions about tree health or need a list of certified arborists, call the Pinellas County Extension horticulture help line at (727) 582-2110.

-- Pam Brown is an urban horticulture extension agent with Pinellas County Extension.