Christmas tree pruning isn't difficult, but it helps to know a few tips and hints before you begin. Below are five things you should know about Christmas tree pruning in order to have the most attractive and healthy tree at the time of harvest:
Remove competitive leaders
Leaders are defined as the prominent vertical growths from the base of the tree. Deciduous trees often have multiple leaders, depending on the species, but evergreen trees usually contain only one leader. There are occasions, however, when competing leaders will develop, and these should be removed as soon as possible to avoid deforming the tree and to prevent loss of nutrients to the main leader.
Don't trim internally whenever possible
As evergreen trees grow outward, the needles beneath the outer layer die and fall off the branches. This is a normal habit of healthy trees, but it may be surprising to some individuals, particularly those who are not used to live Christmas trees. That is why it is important to avoid cutting too deep into the tree if at all possible. Removal of internal branches probably won't harm the tree, but it will leave gaping holes that make your tree unattractive when it comes time to cut and display it.
Avoid making flush cuts to the trunk
With all trees, it is wisest to avoid cutting branches off too close to the trunk. Branches sprout from the trunk at thickened bases known as branch collars. If you make cuts into the branch collar, the tree becomes much more vulnerable to infection and disease. Keeping your pruning cuts beyond the branch color will leave your tree healthier.
Know when to prune
Christmas tree pruning can be done for much of the year, but the ideal time is in the dead of winter. As most plants will do, evergreen trees will respond with healthy, full, and vigorous growth in the spring after being pruned in the winter. It is best to avoid pruning as summer transitions into fall; this may result in unexpected growth that is killed by cold temperatures. However, keep in mind that pruning can be done if a tree suffers damage or a disease affects certain branches. Remove unhealthy or damaged limbs as soon as possible, regardless of the time of year.
Sanitize your cutting tools
Evergreen trees are vulnerable to infection from bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens that can be spread with indiscriminate use of cutting tools. That is why you should always disinfect implements with some type of disinfectant; for example, rubbing alcohol has been demonstrated to be effective in killing pathogens. You can simply pour it on the blades directly or wipe down blades with an alcohol-soaked rag. Disinfect tools between trees and whenever you use an implement for the first time during a cutting session.