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The original item was published from 3/2/2022 9:07:00 AM to 3/2/2022 9:09:52 AM.

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Posted on: March 8, 2022

[ARCHIVED] City Corner Column: When is the best time to plant trees and how should I prune them?

Parks & Recreation Director Jason Alfaro

We tend to get asked about proper tree-trimming techniques and the proper time to plant trees. Since this is a great time to plant and trim trees, we’ll go into detail on each topic below.

When should I plant trees?

National Arbor Day (Tree Planting Day) is celebrated in April. However, Texas has its own Arbor Day on the first Friday of November. Planting trees in the fall and winter allows the tree to establish itself in the new ground prior to our scorching summer temperatures.

When planting new trees, you should remember a few things:

  • Dig the hole shallow and wide.
  • The tree’s root ball should sit an inch or two above ground level.
  • Do not add organic fillers, root stimulators or dirt from another location.
  • Keep the tree straight and backfill with the removed soil.
  • Mulch after planting the tree and keep mulch away from the base of the tree—no volcano mulch!
  • Stake the tree only if the tree continues to lean in one direction or if a predominant wind could bend the tree.
  • Water the tree heavily after mulching. The tree will need deep, infrequent waterings of  10 gallons of water per inch in diameter (measured at chest height).

Illustration showing a tree planted in a shallow hole that is wider at the topPHOTO #1: When planting a new tree, make the planting hole wider at the top so that the root flare (base of the tree) stays above the final grade. (Photo credit: International Society of Arboriculture)

How should I prune my trees?

Pruning equipment

You have some options depending on the size of the branch. Some common tools include handheld pruning cutters, a handheld pruning knife and a chainsaw.

It is best to disinfect your tools with a general disinfectant or bleach diluted with water when moving from tree to tree. This helps reduce the spread of disease between trees.

Where is my final cut going to be made?

Tree limb with a line tracing the branch collar on the side furthest from the trunkPHOTO #2: When pruning a tree, make the final cut at the branch collar. (Photo credit: Jason Alfaro)

You should cut at the branch collar—that is, the joint between the branch and the trunk. Smaller limbs can be removed with one cut, but larger and heavier limbs should be removed using the three-cut method.

The three-cut method

The three-cut method reduces the weight of the limb with the first two cuts and finishes with a clean third cut. This method is used for heavy/large limbs to reduce the chance of bark peeling away from the tree once it’s cut.

Diagram showing two partial cuts near the base of a limb and a third full cut at the base.PHOTO #3: This diagram demonstrates the three-cut method used to remove heavy limbs. (Photo credit: International Society of Arboriculture)

Make an undercut about 1-2 feet away from the branch collar. This undercut shouldn’t go further than half of the diameter of the limb. This cut will act as a pivot for the limb on your second cut.

The second cut will be further away from the branch collar, outside of the undercut. When making the second cut, be ready: once gravity takes over your second cut, you will notice the limb will come to a stop at the first cut and will fall without tearing the tree.

The third and final cut will be just outside the branch collar, allowing the tree a great opportunity to seal itself properly.  

What happens if I don’t cut the tree properly?

Tree with a large vertical section of bark stripped away from the base of a cut limb.PHOTO #4: If a large limb is removed without the three-cut method, the bark could peel away from the main stem. (Photo credit: International Society of Arboriculture)

If you cut too far into the branch collar, the tree won’t seal properly, inviting pests and disease to enter the wound. This can also happen if you cut too far away from the branch collar; plus, you’ll have an additional hazard caused by rotting wood that could fall on someone or something.

For more information, contact Parks & Recreation at 361-485-3200 or

Jason Alfaro is an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist and the director of Parks & Recreation.

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