Most farmers plant at least a few trees for fruit, fuelwood, or timber, for fodder or green manure, or just for shade and beauty. After the first three or four years, when these trees are established, they grow and produce even if they are neglected. But if you take a little extra care, the trees will live longer and produce more for you, your children, and perhaps even your grandchildren.
You must take special care when you cut tree branches. You will need to do this from time to time. You may cut off large branches if a tree shades your crops too much or if you need logs for building or other uses. You may cut small branches and twigs if you need fuel or leaves for fodder or green manure. Or you may prune or thin some kinds of fruit trees to force new growth for a better crop.
Whatever the reason, take care to cut the branches in the right way, at the right time. Here are a few simple steps to follow to keep your trees healthy and strong.
What to cut Cut off dead, diseased, or broken branches immediately. If you don’t, the branches may die back even more. Cut back to the first healthy node. Nodes are the points where new branches grow from older ones. A slightly damaged branch may heal itself, but if it is severely damaged, the tree wastes energy trying to heal it. Also, insects and diseases may attack the damaged weak spots. Burn these branches right away.
If you are cutting for other reasons, observe the tree carefully through a whole cycle of seasons. This will tell you what branches you can safely cut, and when you should cut them.
If you have planted the tree for its fruit or pods, note where they grow. Are they on the tips of last season’s mature wood? Or on the young shoots of this season? Find out, so that you don’t cut off the bearing wood.
Fruit trees have special pruning needs, which are different for different kinds of fruit. Some trees are pruned once a year, some once in several years. Some should not be pruned at all. If you don’t have much experience in growing a particular fruit, you may have to ask someone who does. If you can reach an extension service, that would be the best place to ask. If not, maybe a neighbour can help.
Other trees, which you plant for fodder, fuel, or green manure, should be cut much more often. In general, the best time to do the cutting is just before the growing season. In the tropics this usually means just before or at the start of the rainy season.
How to cut Look at the basic shape of the tree. Is it spreading and umbrella shaped? Is it tall and tapering? Or is it compact and rounded? Keep its basic outline when you cut its branches. This will keep the tree looking good and growing well.
Use clean, sharp tools. A sharp saw is the best tool for cutting thick, large branches. If you are using an axe, a knife, or a machete, make sure it is sharp so that the wood does not splinter.
Cut clear through the wood and the bark of the branch with the cutting tool. Don’t cut part way and then pull off the branch. This will tear the bark below the cut, making it easy for insect pests or disease organisms to get into the soft inner wood. There are two good ways to cut large branches. The first is to cut out a ring of bark right round the branch. This way, if the branch breaks from its own weight, it will not tear the bark below the cut. The second way is to cut the branch in two stages by first cutting off part of the branch to lessen the weight and then making a second cut at the node.
Cut directly above a node. Don’t leave a stump above the node. If you leave any stump, the node cannot produce new growth. That part of the branch will slowly die down to the node or even lower and kill the whole branch. Start the cut just above the bud or eye and go down at an angle to just behind the node. If you are cutting the whole branch, cut it close to the tree trunk. Don’t leave a stump. If you do, this stump will die back and in time seriously weaken the whole tree.
Trees generally heal themselves. But, if you wish, you can cover the cut surface of the branch, especially if it is a large branch. This will keep insects and diseases away from the soft wood at the center. Some farmers use paint or tar to seal the cut area but it is not really necessary for healing. Don’t use mud because it may contain eggs of insects that could eat into the wood.
- Cut off all dead and damaged branches immediately.
- Prune fruit trees in the right season.
- Keep the basic shape of the tree when you cut its branches. Use sharp, clean tools.
- Cut just above a node.
- Cut clear through the branch; don’t pull, twist, or tear it off.
- Seal the cut surface to protect from insects and diseases.
- Give your trees this little bit of extra care and they will reward you with fruit, wood, and leaves for many years.